Mario Balotelli, Radamel Falcao, Klass-Jan Huntelaar, Karim Benzema, Edinson Cavani, just some of the high profile names Arsenal were linked to throughout the transfer window. So when the final day of the window struck and it came to the fore that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was signing Danny Welbeck, it came across as a sick joke to many devoted followers of the Gunners. Having driven themselves crazy scaling every transfer rumour website available, the initial thought was that there couldn’t be a more underwhelming purchase that they could have made, considering the circumstances.
Over a week has passed now though, and views on Welbeck may be altering that he could be a success; given his new managers’ track record. We all know over the years how Wenger has improved and nurtured the talents of players since he came to England, but this could well be his biggest task. Let’s look at Danny Welbeck and see whether or not this could be a stroke of genius by Wenger or could he be dealing with another Francis Jeffers? Many are linking Wenger’s buy to Brendan Rodgers’ signing of Daniel Sturridge in January 2013; we will also compare Welbeck and Sturridge.
How good Welbeck could actually be is a fascinating topic. Not for a little while has a transfer bought so much divided opinion. Arsenal fans instinctively voiced through social media that they did not want him. Comments ranged from people saying they would cancel the deal as soon as the update for the synonymous Football Manager video game came out and stretched as far as hoping Welbeck failed his medical. There was a mixed reception when John Cross of the Daily Mirror, often equivocal when referring to Arsenal wrote, “I think Danny Welbeck is a very good signing for Arsenal. Good to see they have responded and gone for it. That’s proving their ambition”, (Source: Twitter). As Welbeck was not United’s first choice striker and Arsenal are currently better than United, some took this comment with a pinch of salt.
As a few days passed, those linked with Manchester United thought the sale of a home grown product was a terrible decision, former Assistant Manager Mike Phelan stressing that United’s “identity has been broken”, (Source: BBC Sport).
To start with, Welbeck perhaps is so maligned because we expected big things from him. In the 2008/9 season he scored his first Manchester United goal, a rasping drive from outside the box which flew in off the bar in a 5-0 hammering of Stoke City. Since then though his progression has been somewhat of an anti-climax.
Welbeck, since then, was not always used in his favoured central role in the attack, due to the quality of the personnel around him and his lack of consistency in front of goal. Whilst being on loan at Sunderland from United in the 2010/11 season, he showed glimpses of being more effective scoring 6 League goals in 26 games; not an emphatic return by any means. However he did show that he could be a nuisance for defenders when actually used in the centre; his most important moment came netting against Chelsea in a 3-0 victory at Stamford Bridge.
What infuriates you when watching Welbeck is his decision making in front of goal. when he has had chances, his finishing has left us at times completely dumbfounded. The best example of this was in last season’s Champions League Quarter Final First Leg against Bayern Munich. With the game still goalless, Welbeck raced on to a loose ball, and advanced upon keeper Manuel Neuer. Neuer who stands at 6’4” had not gone to ground and Welbeck tried to chip the ball over him, a finish that bemused everyone watching.
Now many Arsenal fans were under the illusion, that Wenger needed more firepower if they were to mount a more sustainable title push than last season, when they accumulated the most amount of days at the top of the Premiership, but amazingly finished only in fourth place. These cries for another striker were made with last campaigns top scorer Olivier Giroud fit and well, a player who himself draws huge debate among fans due to a lack of pace and his poor finishing especially in big games. So when he injured a foot in the away draw at Everton on August 23rd, the Arsenal faithful thought they were owed a top signing to deliver the goals they so badly needed. Young Yaya Sanogo, (bless his little cotton socks), tries his heart out every game, but is still very raw, and as of yet lacks the goalscoring instincts to temporarily fill the void up top.
There’s been a widespread hypothesis that Liverpool’s purchase of Daniel Sturridge can be a similar scenario. Sturridge was 23 when he moved to Liverpool from Chelsea in January 2013, which is Welbeck’s age now. Since moving up north, Sturridge has been prolific. Both Welbeck and Sturridge were tipped for greatness from young ages. The underlying aspect that has to be understood though when comparing the two Daniel’s, is since breaking into first team football, Sturridge’s ability wasn’t strongly questioned, the issue was his attitude. With what we know about Welbeck his attitude hasn’t really been a stumbling block; he comes across as a model professional, willing to sacrifice himself for the best of the team. It’s his ‘ability’ we are still unsure of.
Sturridge before joining Liverpool had displayed his talents, in the 2010/11 season, while on loan from Chelsea at Bolton Wanderers, where he scored 8 goals in 12 matches with some dazzling finishes and singlehandedly fired them to safety. In the 11/12 season back at Chelsea, Blues boss Andre Villas-Boas was a fan of his talents and started him when he was fit. Sturridge finished the season as Chelsea’s joint top scorer in the League with Frank Lampard on 11 goals, which they both did in 30 appearances, (Source: Opta). That strike rate doesn’t jump out of the page at you, but Sturridge played a lot of games on the right hand side cutting onto his left foot. Playing out wide is an excuse mainly used for Welbeck’s lack of career goals, but Sturridge showed you can still make a goalscoring contribution if you are good enough. Also as Roberto Di Matteo took over the Chelsea job that season his minutes were significantly reduced. So one must be careful when suggesting Welbeck will overnight turn into Mr. Prolific.
Welbeck has 37 goals so far in his career in 178 appearances, so we are yet to be assured he can do a job. Can Welbeck really consistently score goals at the highest level?
Well, when we look at his England form, it would suggest maybe yes, as he has shown some bursts of quality at international level, which is what makes him so complex to define. Playing for England he seems to play with less pressure and appears to enjoy himself more. Monday’s brace against Switzerland meant Welbeck now boasts a respectable 10 goals in 28 caps. He hasn’t always been used directly in the centre, although, when he has been used there he is a threat. His direct running, upper body strength and pace will bring another dimension to Arsenal’s play. Arsenal’s play will bring another dimension to Welbeck’s goalscoring oppurtunities. Welbeck’s runs behind the opposition defensive line could cause all kinds of problems and will be a change from Giroud. It is also worth noting that last season when Welbeck was actually used in the centre for United he scored 8 goals in 13 games, and when he was used a wider position he contributed a solitary goal in 12 League games. So, there is optimism for Arsenal fans if he is used in his preferred position.
Welbeck is an extremely likeable player who has taken some unfair criticism, but only at times. Some of his critics are well within their rights, especially when it comes to his finishing and decision making. If he can produce more finishes like his second goal in last season’s opening day 4-1 win for United against Swansea, when he scored with a sublime chip, then Arsenal fans could be in for a treat. Any striker would love the prospect of being fed through balls by the likes of, Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and when he does actually decide to pass it forward Mikel Arteta. Add to this the pace of Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez aiding him and Welbeck should thrive. He should also be able to weigh in with some assists given the attacking players at Arsenal’s disposal. Overall I believe he can be a good purchase for Arsenal, but I don’t feel he will be an instant hit; his value will come over time. Arsenal need goals now to make sure they retain Champions League football and if he doesn’t hit the ground running, he will feel it from the Arsenal fans. Quotes on him being the bargain of the transfer window, or Jamie Redknapp’s ‘bargain of the century’ comment are premature. As he is an English player I feel that the comments are being slightly exaggerated, frankly if a foreign player had been bought with the same goalscoring record as Welbeck for 16 million pounds, Wenger would have been openly vilified.