Arsene Wenger is unlikely to admit it but with six games remaining his Arsenal side are only playing for pride in the Premier League. A place in the coveted top four is almost certainly out of the question and that was confirmed by Wenger’s decision to rest the likes of Mesut Ozil and hand a first Premier League start to 18-year-old Reiss Nelson.
Arsenal look likely to reach the Europa League semi-final following their first leg 4-1 quarter-final win over CSKA Moscow at Emirates Stadium, but Wenger is likely to bring a strong squad with him for the return game in Moscow on Thursday.
One player who maintains a consistent presecnce in the first team squad is England forward Danny Welbeck, who has mostly been used in the Europa League this season alongside domestic cameo appearances.
The former Manchester United striker is regularly the butt of jokes for his somewhat clumsiness in front of goal, but against Southampton he once again emphasised his usefulness to the Arsenal team with two goals and an impressive deft flick assist for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Welbeck’s attributes are clear for all to see. He is an excellent link-up player, capable of taking up astute positions and a consummate professional who delivers his all when on the pitch.
While his goalscoring exploits are much to be desired - the opener against the Saints was his first league goal since September – Welbeck proved his worth with an all encompassing performance upfront which helped Arsenal secure all three points in a match which has little relevance to Arsenal when you factor in their current Europa League ambitions.
The porous Arsenal defence has struggled throughout the season and further signs of the Gunners vulnerability at the back could be seen with Shane Long’s opener following a mix-up between Petr Cech and Shkodran Mustafi, with the latter failing to clear a ball during a lapse in concentration.
Summer surgery is certainly needed on Arsenal’s defence and there can be no doubt that Arsenal will be busy when the transfer window comes around.
As for Welbeck, injuries may have curtailed his potential at times but a relatively injury-free season so far has put the 27-year-old in contention for a place in the England squad for this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
“Welbeck is getting sharper because he’s been out for a while and now he came slowly back to his best," said Wenger after the game. "I’m pleased for him because this guy has gone through difficult times. He deserves everything he gets. He had every reason to feel sorry for himself and think ‘this mountain is too big to climb’.
“People question him ' will he come back or not' and he continues to go. The most difficult test for any sports person [is a long-term injury] and I believe what he has done is exceptional.”
He is respected and utilised correctly at national team level and his reliable nature, solid work ethic and ability to bring fluid attacking moves to completion makes him the perfect squad player for Arsenal.