• German covets centre-forward spot after comeback goal
• Fit-again forward can ease the burden on Olivier Giroud
Lukas Podolski endured the numbing routine. It sapped his spirits for the best part of four months and there was also the fear of the unknown. Never before had Arsenal's Germany striker suffered a serious muscle injury and World Cup year was not the moment for a first of this nature. Yet if there was a positive to the hamstring tear that tore a hole in Podolski's season, it is that his motivation to make up for lost time has gone off the scale.
His comeback game could not have gone any better on Boxing Day. On as a 65th-minute substitute at West Ham United for Aaron Ramsey, who had felt his hamstring pop, he watched Theo Walcott equalise almost immediately for 1-1. Podolski then crossed for Walcott to head Arsenal in front before bringing down that hammer of a left foot to make the victory safe and lift his team back to the top of the table.
Podolski had not played since he felt an explosion of pain down his left hamstring as he sprinted up the wing shortly after half-time in the Champions League play-off second leg against Fenerbahce on 27 August. Fourteen minutes into his return and there was no evidence of rustiness in front of goal from the club's most natural finisher. The emotion was writ large across his celebrations. Podolski had waited a long time to experience the thrill that defines his professional life.
Everyone connected to the club was delighted – and not only because Podolski is such a popular figure. After the failure to sign a top-quality No9 last summer and Podolski's injury, Olivier Giroud has shouldered an immense burden as the sole leader of the line and there have been signs that the strain is telling.
Giroud was poor at West Ham – he has now gone seven matches without a goal – and he would surely benefit from a lightening of his workload. This is where Podolski comes in. Arsène Wenger sees him as a left-sided forward but Podolski sees himself as a No9 and he is ready to help Giroud and the team. Arsenal's schedule is unrelenting. They face the in-form Newcastle United at St James' Park on Sunday but Podolski intends to show why Wenger might not need to enter the January market for a striker.
"When you sit on the bench or in the stadium or on the couch at home, it is not easy to watch," Podolski said. "You don't have the feeling with the team and in the dressing-room. But this is the way it is in football and it's why I'm all the more happy to be back.
"I have never had a muscle injury before so it was a new experience. Every morning you come in, you have treatment and you work to get fit while the others are working outside. It is not easy for the head. But this is the way it is and I am young enough to play a lot of matches now."
Podolski has sympathy for Ramsey, who spent Friday being assessed and for whom the initial prognosis looks bad. It would be a surprise if he played again before February. Ramsey is the club's only outfield player to have appeared in each of their 18 league fixtures, starting 17 of them, and Wenger knew that the 23-year-old was in the red, fitness-wise, before West Ham.
Ramsey was excellent at Upton Park before he was forced off, to illustrate the dilemma that Wenger has faced. How can the manager leave out a player in the form of his career, particularly when there is so much riding on each league game?
Arsenal, though, are in relatively good shape in terms of the overall injury picture, with Laurent Koscielny expected to be available at Newcastle after a knee problem and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain having targeted next weekend's FA Cup tie at home to Tottenham Hotspur for his comeback after severe knee ligament damage. Jack Wilshere has completed a two-match suspension and Wenger has only Abou Diaby and Yaya Sanogo as long-term casualties.
"I remember last season, we had a lot of injuries and a lot of problems," Podolski said. "But now we have only one or two, so it is good. It was important to beat West Ham because in the last [four] matches, we drew or lost. We have got to go to Newcastle to win again. It is not easy because there are five or six teams who are all strong this season but we have a strong team and we will fight."