Arsenal fans surprised at Danny Welbeck’s omission from the starting line-up against Tottenham a fortnight ago were finally given what they wanted in Sunday’s pivotal crunch clash with Manchester United.
The 26-year-old has hardly set the Emirates alight since he joined from United two seasons ago but he provided exactly what Olivier Giroud couldn’t offer at White Hart Lane - pace, mobility and an ability to stretch the opposition defence. His bullet header past David de Gea in the second half, which was a replica of Thierry Henry’s in the same fixture in 2007, means he has now scored in each of his last three appearances against his former club in Arsenal colours.
“That’s the kind of goal you want from Danny. He has all the abilities a striker needs. Hopefully, that will give him a boost,” said Arsene Wenger after the game.
Welbeck’s arrival on transfer deadline day in the summer of 2014 was met with a mixed response by many Arsenal fans, and it’s fair to say that Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness is correct when he questioned whether the versatile forward is clinical enough to start up top for the Gunners. He’s failed to reach double figures in any of his three seasons in north London and even when you take his dismal injury record into contention, the numbers are still below what is expected of a Premier League forward.
Wenger’s side haven’t dominated a league match in months. The 3-0 win over Chelsea back in September appears to be the benchmark for their season as far as footballing quality and performance are concerned, with the second half against United an improvement in what the fans have witnessed this year. It almost seems as if many are simply waiting for the season to end and the feeling with the current team selection is that it’s a mixture of experimentation rather than tactical nous, but regardless of the finer intricacies of how Wenger is getting his team to play, Welbeck’s inclusion was undoubtedly the right one.
His first goal at Emirates Stadium since April 2016 was met with sheer jubilation from the home faithful and rightly so. Welbeck’s pressing of United goalkeeper David de Gea was particularly noteworthy as the Spanish shot-stopper looked unsettled with poor distribution throughout. Added to that, the 64 sprints from Welbeck were the most of any player on the pitch, and whether that is down to a motivated striker playing against his former club or an instruction given to him by the manager, it is a stat that shows how much space he had to run into and how he was allowed to use his movement to trouble a fragile United backline.
Twenty months on the sidelines battling consecutive knee problems has motivated the England international to come back a bigger and better player, while the motivation of scoring goals helped keep him going.
“I think because I had this experience before, coming back from an injury, I kind of knew what to expect even though it's a tough time,” he said.
Although he was initially offered to Arsenal on loan, the jury is still out on whether Wenger’s decision to sign Welbeck on a permanent deal was the correct one, but if he can stay injury free and get a solid run of games until the end of the season then the future bodes well.
His link-up play with Alexis and Mesut Ozil is free-flowing and brilliant to watch at times, but he clearly needs to know what his best position is. He claims his natural role is through the middle yet he’s had success on the left flank this season, too.
Against a United team who have not scored an away goal versus a top six club all season, it was a comprehensive day at work for Arsenal once Granit Xhaka’s deflected opener looped over De Gea, but 'Dat Guy Welbz' once again reminded everyone of his qualities with a goalscoring performance which he should now build on if he has hopes of keeping his spot in the starting XI.