Having spent his whole career until then in Germany, it was a step into the unknown for Lukas Podolski when he joined Arsenal last summer. A year later, the charismatic forward can look back at his assimilation to the Premier League with a huge amount of pride, while also feeling confident that he has the perfect platform on which to build in 2013/14.
Lukas signed for Arsenal, on the eve of Euro 2012, from Bundesliga side Cologne, where he had spent seven years - split either side of a three-year stint with Bayern Munich. His first Gunners goal arrived in just his third game for the Club, and he continued to find the net regularly throughout the campaign - often in stunning style. By the end of the season he had amassed 16 goals in all competitions, a figure he had surpassed only once in the previous seven years, and added 12 assists from his 42 outings.
There are five or six teams who will fight for first place in the Premier League, and we are one of those teamsLukas Podolski
“I think it was OK,” says the 28-year-old, reflecting on his debut season. “I scored a lot of goals, got a lot of assists for the team and at the end of the season we were in fourth place. It’s very important for the team to have the chance to play in the Champions League this season.
"We have a couple of qualification matches now and we have the chance to go through. That was the end we wanted to the season, now we can look forward to the next one. I hope we do it well, better than last season. There are five or six teams who will fight for first place in the Premier League, and we are one of those teams. We will keep it going and fight for the championship.”
Lukas missed just five league games throughout the season, though he only completed the full 90 minutes twice, as he acclimatised to the demands of the Premier League. There’s no mid-season break in England, of course, such as he had been used to in the Bundesliga. “Yes, that was different,” admits the left-footed forward. “In Germany we’re used to having a break for two weeks, but here we spent the New Year in the team hotel. So that was different but I really like this league, I like the Club and the fans are crazy - at the home matches and the away matches. The stadiums are all great - I love it here.”
I really like this league, I like the Club and the fans are crazy - at the home matches and the away matches. The stadiums are all great - I love it hereLukas Podolski
Once the Premier League campaign had been wrapped up with the 1-0 win at St James Park, Lukas - as a former Bayern Munich man - was among the interested observers of the Champions League final, between the newly crowed German champions and their closest rivals, Borussia Dortmund.
“After the season we had a trip with the German national team, to Miami, so we watched the final all together,” he says. “Some players were supporting Bayern, some were supporting Borussia Dortmund, and the others didn’t really mind. I thought it was a good game. Dortmund had a good first 20 minutes but couldn’t score the first goal. It was a close game at 0-0 but Bayern scored the first goal and this was important for them. When you score the first goal in the final it’s important for your head, and they went on to win it. They played a very good season - in the Champions League and in Germany - so they deserved it.”
It was a late goal that decided the destiny of the Champions League, but a few days later Lukas was making German history for the fastest goal scored for the national team. He netted just nine seconds into the friendly win over Ecuador in Miami, and later added another in the 4-2 victory for the nationalmannschaft.
Rihanna had two concerts in Cologne and afterwards I was able to meet her. I’m a big fan of hers, she makes very good music, so it was nice to meet herLukas Podolski
“The referee blew the whistle to start the game, they kicked off and I went straight to the front,” explains Lukas, who is now the third most capped German international of all time with 110 appearances. “I was a bit lucky to take the ball from the defender and then score the goal. I was happy afterwards because we won the game, and then some of the staff told me it was the fastest-goal ever for the national team. I have never done something like that before. I don’t know whether it was seven, eight or nine seconds into the game, I’m just happy to score for my country and to help us win the game. It was only after the match that I realised it was a record.”
With no major tournament this summer for Germany, it was a rare chance for Lukas to enjoy some time off after the friendlies against Ecuador and USA. Those of you who follow him on Twitter will have seen Lukas has been busy during his holidays though, including meeting a very special Barbadian... “Yes, have you been following me on my holiday?!” he says smiling. “Rihanna had two concerts in Cologne and afterwards I was able to meet her. I’m a big fan of hers, she makes very good music, so it was nice to meet her when she was in my home town of Cologne. I don’t know if she is a football fan though, we didn’t talk about that.”
While enjoying his break Lukas did keep a close eye on developments in the Premier League though, with the many managerial changes, and players arriving from the Bundesliga, particularly interesting him. “It’s the same every season - players come and go. This year is a bit special though because all of the top three teams changed their manager. So we will see what happens there, because it’s not easy when a new manager comes in. New players have arrived too at those clubs, I know Andre Schurrle well from Germany and he has signed for Chelsea, so it will be interesting to see how he does.”
This year is a bit special though because all of the top three teams changed their manager. So we will see what happens thereLukas Podolski
All the work is counting down towards the big kick-off for the new season – against Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium on August 17. That will be swiftly followed by the two-legged Champions League play-off game to qualify for the group stage, a trip to Craven Cottage and the north London derby - all in the opening fortnight. Lukas is excited by the prospect.
“Yes of course. I’m especially happy that the first game is at home, I think that’s important. Then we have an important match to qualify for the Champions League, home and away, and we know we have to win those. You can never afford to start slowly; you have to start strong and fast. We have the qualification game for the Champions League in the first few weeks, of course, but we would want to start strongly anyway.”
And now with a year of Premier League experience under his belt, Lukas feels more prepared than ever for the season ahead. “Of course it’s very different to last year for me personally,” he states. “I have spent a year here now so I know the staff, the players, the coaches. I know the city well too so I think this year will be a little bit easier. I am more at home, I know my way around, the restaurants, the things to do.”
Read the interview with Lukas and more in the latest edition
And does he expect it to be easier on the pitch too, now he knows what to expect? "I’m looking forward to it. I will be strong, maybe stronger than last year. I’ll help the team and try to fight for first place for the fans. I will score goals and make assists, and help the team. I think we must be strong as a team next season. In the last 15 matches of last season we were one of the top teams. We must have that concentration in every game - every game is important. If we can start like we finished the last few months of last season, the new season will be much better.”
The rest of the Premier League be warned: Lukas Podolski has only just got started.Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 15 Aug 2013