There was something special about Danny Welbeck’s two goals against Southampton. The England forward made his first start in seven months for Arsenal in the FA Cup fourth round match at St Mary’s and took just 15 minutes to remind everyone of his attacking qualities.
Many were predicting a tight tie, but Welbeck’s superb dinked finish from a Lucas Perez assist ensured that was never going to be the case. Southampton players appeared to be confused with the system they were playing in and Claude Puel’s forced decision to field a much weakened team certainly played into the Gunners hands, allowing Welbeck & Co. to take advantage.
The 26-year-old is a clear example of how squad depth can benefit Arsene Wenger’s side for the first time in years. His contributions against the Saints certainly proved how valuable he can be for Arsenal this season if he stays fit. The impressive away support spent much of the game singing the name of the former Manchester United forward, and Wenger, who served the first match of his four game suspension, will be delighted that he is beginning to repay the faith given to him.
Welbeck’s infectious pressing and tremendous work rate drew similarities to Alexis Sanchez at times and he is exactly the kind of player Arsenal need in their title chase over the coming months. Lucas Perez is another whose contributions could prove pivotal and he has now directly contributed to 12 goals, with six of his own and as many assists in his last 14 appearances. The Spaniard, like Welbeck, was the subject of criticism for struggling to impact matches from the bench, but he once again emphasised the squad depth. Added to that, Olivier Giroud has scored 10 goals this season, Walcott now has 11 goals and the talismanic Alexis has 17 goals and 10 assists to his name.
Since losing those back-to-back games against Everton and Manchester City, Arsenal have gone seven games unbeaten in all competitions and look like a unified team who are hungry for silverware. The competition that Wenger knows so well and has won six times may be coming home - and the variety of options Arsenal have in attack could be the difference between another trip to Wembley.
There is tough competition though. If Welbeck wants to revitalise his Arsenal career then it’s imperative that he makes an almost immediate impact, otherwise cameo appearances from the bench appear more likely. Wenger has encouraged squad rotation this season and game time will be afforded to the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lucas Perez but the ultimate aim for all of these first team players is a regular spot in the starting line-up.