Arsenal's signing of FC Koln's German international striker Lukas Podolski, followed by the capture of Montpellier forward Olivier Giroud is nothing if not a signal of intent from manager Arsene Wenger. A manager famous for being tight-fisted with transfers, the Frenchman has now splashed the cash on two high-profile signings and there are enough rumours to suggest he isn't done.
However, the fact that Wenger has signed two strikers, coupled with the uncertainty still surrounding the Arsenal future of Dutch striker Robin van Persie, could mean that despite the manager's outwardly confident air his talismanic forward will remain at the Emirates for next season, he is preparing for life without yet another high-profile and world-class player.
The prospect of a forward line featuring van Persie, Podolski and Giroud is a hugely enticing one, although there is a distinct possibility we may not see all three (assuming van Persie stays) at the same time, much like we don't often see Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain feature simultaneously for Real Madrid. The presence of Theo Walcott at Arsenal adds another factor to consider when deciding formations. In any case, Giroud has spoken out against the idea of him replacing the Dutchman and is adamant, according to the Metro, that van Persie is still the striker to displace at the Emirates.
"When you make the decision to join a great club, you know there is already a great forward," Giroud was quoted as saying, "I know what to expect. Van Persie is a fantastic player who was outstanding last season. He has been at Arsenal for eight years, so I hope I will have time to adapt and improve. Anyway, I don't go there to take his place."
Van Persie, Giroud and Podolski
Arsenal's striking options, through last season, were limited. Indeed, with the exception of van Persie, none of his other recognised front men contributed anything even remotely meaningful, with Moroccan striker Marouane Chamakh a flop and Korean Park Chu-Young equally unimpressive. The acquisition of Giroud and Podolski, therefore, makes good tactical sense. However, despite what each may say about playing for the team, both are used to being lead strikers and will not settle for anything else.
It helps that the German can play on the left flank and van Persie is comfortable on the wings as well, often playing there to accommodate Frenchman Thierry Henry. It could therefore be that they will flank Giroud in a three-man attack, with Mikel Arteta, Alexander Song and Jack Wilshere behind them. Should M'Vila also sign then that boosts the hard-tackling defensive midfield quotient of the Gunners' game, meaning that tough away fixtures or games against physical sides like Stoke City need no longer be feared. The twin defensive axis of Songa and M'Vila should provide enough cover both for the back line and the attack to go about their business.
That then should add credence to Giroud's words about not replacing van Persie. However, the presence of Walcott and Ivory Coast international Gervinho (despite the latter's inconsistent showings) means competition for the three or four forward places is likely to be very tough. This is certainly an excellent state of affairs for Wenger, particularly given his side's awful injury record but one that could end up unsettling either one of van Persie, Giroud or Podolski.
Furthermore, a 4-3-3 line-up like the one above (van Persie, Giroud, Podolski) will place pressure on a narrow midfield and require both the Dutchman and the German to track back to help Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs. Will they do that? Podolski should be a willing runner, given that he fulfills a similar role and requirement with Joachim Low's Germany but van Persie may not be so defensively minded.
Another option could be a more contemporary 4-2-3-1 line-up, with Giroud as the main striker supported by van Persie in the hole and Podolski and Walcott on the flanks. This has the advantage of playing all four of Arsenal's key attacking figures but means the necessary sacrifice of Arteta from the centre of the park. An example of this requirement is the way the German national team operates. Mario Gomez is supported by Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller and Podolski but the formation is only made possible by the work ethic and hard-tacking of Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger in a midfield duo that understands exactly how the other plays. Arteta is a playmaker more than a tackling midfielder and if Arsenal want to make a 4-2-3-1 work, they'll need Song and maybe Wilshere in the centre of the park.
Finally, a more traditional 4-4-2 could also be an answer, with Podolski and Walcott starting from further down the pitch before moving up to support van Persie and Giroud. Effectively, when in possession, this will translate into a 4-2-3-1 but for this to work, again, the wide men will have to track back fast and effectively, when Arsenal lose the ball.
A more cautious approach would be to start with only one or two of the three. It could be van Persie and, say, Giroud starting. This leaves Podolski on the bench, either to be used as an impact sub or an option for rotation. Needless to say the German will not take too kindly to that situation in the long-term but it does offer a bit more balance to Arsenal's formation. This should allow three central midfielders - Arteta, Song and Wilshere - to play as support for van Persie (on one flank), Walcott (on the other) and Giroud in the box, in a slightly spread-out 4-3-2-1 set-up. The space behind Giroud should, technically, provide encouragement for either van Persie or Walcott to drift inside and allow Sagna and Gibbs to push through on overlaps. The advantage here would be that even if Arsenal did lose the ball, a quick counter could be nullifed by the presence of Song, backed by Wilshere or M'Vila.
Regardless of whether van Persie stays or goes, the fact that Wenger has moved to sign both Giroud and Podolski is excellent news for Gunners fans. While most would probably trade both the latter in for a Thierry Henry in his prime, the Frenchman and the German have the qualities needed to really trouble any defence in England. It will undoubtedly take time for the two to settle in to their new surroundings and learn the Arsenal way and, at least for as long as that happens, van Persie remains, as Giroud said, the club's main striker. Should either Podolski or Giroud then impress Wenger, it may be the iconic Dutchman's Emirates days are numbered, particularly since he is 28 years old. However, if Wenger can convince the Dutchman to stay and work out how to keep all his forward men happy, Arsenal can claim to having, on paper at least, one of the strongest attacking line-ups in the Premier League.
Will that be enough to guarantee success?