Walcott, Podolski returns welcome for Gunners

Posted by Andrew Mangan

Arsenal's season, as we know, has been better than most people expected as they head into Monday's crucial match against Chelsea. They are top of the league; they've qualified from a difficult Champions League group; they've beaten Liverpool, Spurs, Dortmund and have won games in some style, scoring fabulous goals in the process.

However, there have been signs in recent weeks that they're feeling the effects of their efforts so far. They couldn't hang on to the lead against Everton in a game that saw the Toffees outplay them for most of the first half. They went down 2-0 in Napoli, and last weekend a madcap day of (non-)defending saw them lose 6-3 to Manchester City.

While mistakes at the back were certainly the issue against City, the one positive Arsene Wenger could take was the return of Theo Walcott. The England man scored twice on his first start for three months. The first, a sizzling shot so powerful City keeper Costel Pantilimon couldn't even react; the second, a beautiful curler into the top corner.

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It's perhaps overlooked, because of how well Arsenal have been doing, that they've done it without last season's top scorer. Walcott got 21 goals for the club last season with 14 assists, but has spent a considerable time this campaign sidelined with an abdominal injury.

He adds finishing power, and his pace brings an extra dimension to the Arsenal attack, which has been a touch flat at times. Managers love players who can change the dynamic of a game. While Walcott is still some way short of the finished article, he's a player who can do that.

As is Lukas Podolski, confirmed by Arsene Wenger as back in the squad for Chelsea. His layoff has been lengthy, to say the least. He tore his hamstring at the end of August; we're now approaching the end of December. He's another player whose contribution to the team last season was important.

In his first year in English football, he scored 16 goals and made 11 assists in all competitions. When you combine his numbers with Walcott's, it means Arsenal are welcoming back two players who had a direct hand in 52 goals last season. That's a lot of weaponry.

The German also offers something different -- sheer, unadulterated power. There's nobody in this Arsenal team that can hit the ball as hard as he. He has a left foot like Thor's hammer, and when opposition defend deep and deny space in the penalty area, it's a good thing to have someone who can crack the ball from distance.

Obviously, Arsenal need to improve defensively on their Man City performance, but the return of Walcott and Podolski might just be the thing to spark them back into life from an attacking point of view.

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