Podolski, Mannone and the power of 3

So, Arsenal head North this Sunday, after a win the Champions League, to play the silk-stockinged Man City who return from their first European game of the season with their tail between their legs and the rather unsightly vision of Jose Mourinho’s crotch-to-the-sky slide across the Bernebeu turf burned onto their eyeballs. Spend all that money and you can’t even beat Real Madrid at their place? Pfffff.

If there’s another reason to dislike Man City it’s that they made Mourinho happy and forced upon us the most hideous sight in football – Ronaldo’s neck bulging with unconstrained joy. Every single time it’s like his that part of his body has been replaced with John Hurt’s stomach from Alien. They should pixelate it to stop children having nightmares. And by children I mean me.

While Olivier Giroud has yet to find the net this season, Lukas Podolski has banged in three goals and has received the ringing endorsement of Steve Bould. This is a man who played with Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp and Paul Shaw, and he says:

Podolski has made a real impact. I have to say, I’ve not seen many finishers as good as him – ever. In training, right foot, left foot – he goes in at 100mph, which is fabulous. He’s a good trainer, a good boy. He has really added something this year.

Ever is a long time. Either in the future or the past. And for Bould to be so effusive … well, I was going to say it’s not really like him but then we don’t hear a great deal from him due to the fact he’s rarely tasked with speaking to the press. But I have to say I’m a lot more impressed than I thought I’d be. Podolski, that is. He has surprised me, not with his work-rate or application, but with his quality and his ability to fit well into our style of play. I knew he had plenty of power but not as much finesse, but I’m happy to see it.

There were doubts about him after his big move to Bayern Munich didn’t work out but he’s hardly the first, and won’t be the last, good player to have a difficult time at a club which doesn’t suit him or which he went to at the wrong time in his career. While I’m in no way comparing him to Thierry Henry, you need only look at how things went wrong for him at Juventus to see that relative failure at one club does not preclude success elsewhere. Dennis Bergkamp at Inter Milan too. Robert Pires struggled at Marseille.

Podolski has had the cushion of a return to his hometown club to ‘get over’ the Bayern difficulties but he looks a canny purchase by Arsene Wenger. A player heading into the peak years of his career, ready and willing for a new challenge, and determined to make the most of it. Three goals in five games thus far, he’s scored in each game we’ve scored in, it’s very much a case of so far so good.

Meanwhile, Don Vito says that the time he spent on loan at Hull has helped him overcome a difficult time in his career and given him the confidence he needs to challenge Wojciech Szczesny for the number 1 spot at Arsenal. It’s a real measure of how quickly things can change in football. If you’d asked anyone in pre-season if a) they thought Mannone could provide any competition to Woj or b) that he’d play well enough that people would prefer to see him keep his place ahead of the Pole, I think they’d have chuckled softly, patted you on the head then called the men in white coats to come take you away.

He says of his initial reluctance to move to the Tigers:

Nobody wants to go there really but I found a good club, good fans and I gained experience. I played games as a number 1. 24 games in a row, so that’s what I needed. It helped me going onto the pitch thinking, ‘Ok, I can be number 1 now’.

I had a great spell last year where I learned how to be a number 1 really. When you play games in a row, it is a big challenge because you need to recover well and prepare for the next one again.

And if you need any more evidence that football is a confidence game this is it. After his bizarre mishap against Olympiacos it looked like curtains for Mannone, his Arsenal career was about go sleep with the fishes, but a good loan spell, and some serendipity with regards injuries to both our Polish keepers means a guy who was, by Wenger’s own admission, close to going out this summer is now very much a part of the squad.

I think we would be wise to maintain a realistic level of expectation at the moment, however. He has played three games, and played them pretty well, but I think we really need to see more from him to suggest he’s ready for the top job between the sticks at Arsenal. What’s clear is that Szczesny should not return until fully fit. When he is he comes back into the team, for me. He’s the number 1 and I think he’s a better keeper than the Italian, but when he does he should know that Mannone is ready and waiting to fill his boots at any moment. Having that competition is a good thing, in any area of the pitch, and especially so for goalkeepers.

Too often there’s a gap between the number 1 and the deputy that’s simply too big. You have a first choice and then all you have to choose from are players who are perpetual number 2s. The Stuart Taylor Condition, to give it its full title. The difficulty is that if you have a number 2 who isn’t willing to sit on the bench for 38 Premier League games it’s hard to hang onto him, but if the fight for the number 1 spot provides a clear winner then that, in itself, is a positive thing.

We’re somewhat in the dark regarding Szczesny’s injury, no doubt we’ll hear more from the manager as the City game draws closer, but you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be warmed by Mannone’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes.

Right, that’s that. Back tomorrow with an Arsecast and everything. Till then.

ps – for Mrs Blogs 😉


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