Welbeck - success or otherwise

Danny Welbeck wants to play as a centre forward

We’ve had a third of the season now to get used to Danny Welbeck in an Arsenal shirt. It’s therefore a suitable time to begin to ask the question: success or failure?

As ever with questions such as these, there is no clear answer.
Welbeck was often a peripheral figure at former club Manchester United. So, having been on the sidelines at Old Trafford, rarely getting a long stretch in the team, to go from there to being first choice at the Emirates would take some getting used to.

The England forward is also now at a club in the form of Arsenal which has qualified for the Champions League in the past 15 seasons and betfair odds suggest they will again at the end of the current season. There is consequently little time for Welbeck to spend acclimatising. He has to hit the ground running.

Positionally, there is also a difference. At United, Welbeck was often played wide right, rarely being played in his preferred role of down the middle. The 24-year-old therefore again had that to contend with when he moved down south; a new manager and team-mates, a new position in the team and the individually unusual situation of being a first-choice pick.

Those are all mitigating factors. Another is that fellow striker Olivier Giroud had been out for all of Welbeck’s time at the Emirates before returning for the most recent away victory at West Bromwich Albion at the end of November.

That win gave an early indication as to how Giroud and Welbeck would work together. Would Wenger go to two upfront, giving them time to gel as a partnership, or would he have one of them as the main centre forward?

At the Hawthorns, Wenger gave Giroud the role of centre forward, with Welbeck out wider, along with Alexis Sanchez, making a 4-3-3 shape when attacking. This seemed to make sense.

Of the three players, Giroud is most obviously suited to the central role, whereas Welbeck and Sanchez have experience of playing wider and the three can combine effectively in this type of formation.

Olivier Giroud returned against West Brom

Whether Welbeck is happy at that prospect is another matter but, at home to Manchester United the previous week, he perhaps showed why Wenger made the change. Welbeck was the main striker that day and had a couple of good chances to put one over on his former club. However, he missed them and United took all three points.

It was different at West Brom and the result was an improvement. Welbeck, though often on the right, did drift inside when he could and on one of those occasions he scored. Santi Cazorla, who did well in Jack Wilshere’s absence, got to the by-line and crossed for Welbeck to put his good header past Ben Foster in the Albion goal.

Whether the players dovetailing in a front three would work against better opposition is unclear but it was encouraging to see how Welbeck, who has made clear his preference for a central attacking role, was prepared to adapt to suit the team. He has, in his time with the club demonstrated an excellent work-rate and has always made intelligent runs off the ball to get into good positions.

So, in some ways, he is ideal in that slightly wider position. While he may prefer being a centre forward, his finishing isn’t there yet. A position slightly wider, but with freedom to get himself into the box when he can, is possibly more suitable to what he can offer the team.

Looking to the future, Welbeck played well at West Brom and, crucially for him as well as the team, scored the winning goal. However, it doesn’t mean that his position in the team is fully secure. Having an interchangeable front three might also suit the likes of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. You could easily envisage them in a right-hand role in a 4-3-3 formation.

In some ways, Welbeck’s versatility may prove a double-edged sword. If Wenger persists in that formation, he may well see his place under pressure from others in the squad.

That said, Welbeck is currently in that role and if he keeps popping up with goals it is difficult to see Wenger leaving him out. It has consequently been a mixed start for Welbeck in his Arsenal career but there is plenty of hope for the future.

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