Podolski and Mertesacker Have a Point to Prove as Arsenal Host Bayern Munich

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 29, 2013

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 17:  Per Mertesacker of Arsenal (R) and Lukas Podolski of Arsenal arrive during a training session at London Colney on September 17, 2012 in St Albans, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

When Arsenal signed Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski, they acquired the experienced stars of a top national team. Indeed, the center-back had amassed 75 caps for Germany by the time of his transfer from Werder Bremen in August of 2011, while the striker had made 95 appearances for die Mannschaft when the Gunners reached an agreement with Koeln to sign him last April.

Since moving to London, both players have experienced a downturn on the international stage. Together they have earned a modest 21 caps since their respective transfers; Podolski hasn't started a match for Germany since Euro 2012, while Mertesacker now faces heavy competition in the form of Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber for a spot in central defense.

It's not that Mertesacker and Podolski have declined since moving to London. To the contrary, both have arguably improved in stature since leaving their respective, modest Bundesliga clubs. But competition from younger German prospects for spots in both the national team and the Bundesliga's top clubs left them with little choice but to take their chances abroad. And while they have taken those chances rather well, both are struggling for minutes on the international stage.

Mertesacker was never a serious target for Bayern Munich, who had former Brazil captain Lucio in central defense and prospects in the form of Mats Hummels, Breno and later Holger Badstuber in their ranks. When it came time to buy a new center-back, they targeted Benedikt Hoewedes and in the end signed Jerome Boateng without ever expressing much interest in Mertesacker.

Since then, Hummels and Badstuber have both enjoyed considerable development, and the pair started for Germany at Euro 2012 in Mertesacker's injury-induced absence. The Arsenal man has started in three out of four World Cup qualifiers in recent months, but there is no guarantee he will be in the first XI when the tournament is played in 2014.

Podolski was more successful in capturing the interest of Germany's top club, and spent three years at Bayern. He was largely unsuccessful, however, recording a modest 26 goals in 106 appearances, and was sold back to Koeln before eventually moving to Arsenal.

It was, perhaps, a combination of wanting more title-winning prospects at club level and anticipating competition from rising German internationals for playing time in Joachim Loew's team that influenced Podolski and Mertesacker to move to London. They were snubbed by Bayern and had no chance of playing for title contenders in the Bundesliga, while talented prospects in Munich and Dortmund instead competed for the title—and Loew's admiration.

In just three weeks, Mertesacker and Podolski will face off against Bayern in the Champions League Round of 16, and will have a chance to prove themselves to Loew and convince the Bavarians they were wrong to pass on their talents.

A winger in the German national team, Podolski now has competition from Marco Reus, Mario Goetze, Andre Schuerrle and Bayern's Thomas Mueller for a role in die Mannschaft. The ex-Koeln man leads Arsenal in scoring in the Champions League this season with three goals, and will go head-to-head against Mueller in the upcoming tie.

Mertesacker has a point to prove as well. Although Badstuber will miss the rest of the season due to a knee injury and Jerome Boateng will miss the tie due to suspension, the Arsenal center-back will have a chance to prove himself against some of Germany's finest. Mueller, Toni Kroos and Mario Gomez are all possible opponents that Mertesacker will have to keep in check, a tall order for the towering defender.

Bayern enter the Champions League knockout rounds as heavy favorites to beat Arsenal, just as Reus, Goetze and Hummels years ago emerged as long-term favorites to oust Podolski and Mertesacker from the German national team. With the chances of winning any title this season dwindling, Arsenal have a point to prove against Bayern, and there are none more motivated than Podolski and Mertesacker, who, to varying degrees, will be playing for their respective international futures.

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