Arsenal’s form toward the end of last season as well as this pre-season had many fans questioning whether Danny Welbeck would find his way back into a team performing so well. Theo Walcott started up front in the FA Cup final and scored. The manager’s desire to get Cazorla, Coquelin, Ramsey and Ozil into the same team saw Ramsey become the first choice on the right, and that led to howls of disapproval in some quarters because it kept Alex Oxlade Chamberlain out of the starting XI. None of this is to mention that though it didn’t materialize, had Arsene Wenger been able to sign Karim Benzema this summer – a player he much admires – he would have. All of these factors quite understandably led many to ask, where does Welbeck fit in, if at all?
The answer lies in the early season form of both Giroud and Walcott. Giroud has one marvellous goal to his name, but beyond that his performances have been poor. Walcott is yet to score having come off the bench twice, and started once, most recently missing two glorious chances against Newcastle. Neither player has so far made a case to be the undisputed first choice striker, allowing a gap in the Arsenal market that Danny Welbeck will once more have the opportunity to fill.
When you assess the abilities of Giroud and Walcott, they are both half an ideal striker. Giroud can hold the ball up, win headers (although not quite enough for a man of his size and, um, girth), link the play and his vision for a pass is surprisingly good if his execution sometimes fails him. Walcott meanwhile has obvious pace, is a largely good finisher despite recent events, and times his runs very well. If you combined the two you’d get a beautiful Franglo physical specimen with gorgeous hair, extreme quickness and 25-30 goals a season. He also might be two-footed. Sadly, the Premier League and PFA would likely frown upon any such scientific experiment and ban said Olitheo Giroucott from playing. Miserable sods.
In Welbeck, though, Arsenal do actually have a player that combines many of the above attributes. Welbeck is tall, physical, rapid and decent in the air. The timing of his runs is excellent, and his determination and work-rate are genuinely second to none – an area in which he blows Giroucott out of the water. Welbeck can hold the ball up too, and although he isn’t quite on Giroud’s level at bringing others into play, it’s not particularly a weakness. Where lovable Danny falls down is his finishing. His final touch in front of goal has failed him time and again. It’s been said for years, but sort out Welbeck’s finishing and you’ve got a serious, serious striker on your hands.
The question is “how hard could that be?”. In the Premier League, he’s never scored more than nine in a season. His league career total is 32 in 151 appearances, which is nothing to write home about. For England, however, he has 14 in 33, which is an exceptional strike rate. It’s hard to know how to reconcile these two differing Dannys. One could argue that playing with England he often faces easier opposition, which is true, but if finishing chances is his weakness, the opposition matters little. The issue is either mental, technical or a bit of both.
I’m going to guess at mental. If the problem was technical, it is impossible to fathom that it wouldn’t have been coached out of him by now, having spent his career under the guidance of two of the best managers football has ever seen, and two coaches who regularly raised their players’ technical level. If Alex Ferguson could coach a talented but raw, selfish and wasteful Cristiano Ronaldo into arguably the world’s best player, and if Arsene Wenger could turn Henry from a wiry winger who couldn’t shoot a fish in a barrel into one of the best strikers ever to grace the Premier League (not to mention what Arsene did with Alex Song was nothing short of miraculous), then surely one of them would have sorted out Welbeck’s technique, if that were the issue.
So here is the challenge for Danny Welbeck. First, get fit. Then, beat it. Whatever ‘it’ is. Maybe it’s an inferiority complex, a lack of focus in front of goal or an inability to thrive under pressure. Whatever it might be, it must be overcome for him to fulfill his massive potential. Easier said than done? Absolutely. Mental fragility is nothing to be sniffed at, and a disregard for it can be dangerous. But this is what the likes of psychologists and, in this case, sports psychologists are for.
So, let’s first hope that Welbeck can overcome his injury. Then, let’s hope that he can overcome himself. If so, he would be and really, ultimately, should be, the answer to Arsenal’s striking deficiencies.