Trio gunning for German success
13:00 10 June 2014
Arsenal provide ‘spine’ of Joachim Low’s squad
If there’s one country you can almost bank on to feature in the latter stages of any World Cup, it would have to be Germany.
Although they have yet to lift the trophy as a unified nation, the Germans have a remarkably consistent record and have finished third in each of the last two tournaments.
And this time the fortunes of Joachim Low’s team could depend on the performances of the Arsenal trio who are likely to make up the spine of their team in Brazil.
Central defender Per Mertesacker, midfield playmaker Mesut Ozil and experienced forward Lukas Podolski all head into the tournament on a high after helping the Gunners to win the FA Cup, their first trophy for nine years.
All three were key players for Arsenal last season – yet each of them also endured dips in form that, if repeated, could threaten their national side’s prospects in a difficult group.
Mertesacker’s partnership at the back with Laurent Koscielny went from strength to strength as the Londoners surged to the top of the Premier League and remained there for the best part of five months.
And yet there were times when the Gunners’ defence looked positively fragile, especially in key away games against Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea where they conceded a total of 17 goals.
Under pressure from the off against top-quality strikers, the pair wilted all too frequently and Mertesacker was not allowed to dominate opponents as he had done earlier in the campaign.
Last autumn, of course, was also a time when the Emirates faithful were revelling in the joy of watching Ozil, their club record signing at almost £43million from Real Madrid, take teams apart.
From his debut at Sunderland onwards, the quality was there for all to see as the 25-year-old, gliding effortlessly across the pitch, piled up goals and assists galore in both domestic and European games.
By the turn of the year, however, Ozil’s influence appeared to be waning as he visibly drifted out of games, followed by a hamstring strain that kept him on the sidelines at a crucial stage of the campaign.
Although Ozil returned looking refreshed in the final month of the season and showed glimpses of his old form, the Gunners did finish off with one of the least testing run-ins imaginable.
That may still leave lingering question marks over Ozil’s ability to do real damage against the best teams – while the bulk of Podolski’s goals for the Gunners last season also came against lesser opposition.
Despite missing almost the entire first half of the season with a hamstring injury, Podolski still ended up with a respectable tally of 12 goals – but he also displayed a worrying tendency to disappear from games.
In fairness to Podolski, he was only occasionally deployed as an orthodox attacker, with Arsene Wenger preferring to field him in a wider role on the left.
But that may not be the case in Brazil. Low has selected only one other recognised strikers – the evergreen Miroslav Klose.
So Podolski – who has won more caps for Germany than any other player in the squad bar Klose – should get his chance to shine at some stage of the tournament.
Low must hope that the 29-year-old, along with his Arsenal team-mates, shows what he is really capable of – otherwise Germany’s proud World Cup record could easily be tarnished this time.