It has become an established cliche at Arsenal: when a new player returns from injury, Arsene Wenger will hail them as “like a new signing”.
Abou Diaby, for example, was a ‘new signing’ on about half a dozen separate occasions. In that case, the comparison was particularly ludicrous — Diaby would never have negotiated his way through a medical.
You can almost be certain that Wenger will use those words to herald the return of Danny Welbeck after the current international break. They will be a particularly poignant words after Arsenal failed to make the anticipated move for a new striker on deadline day. Welbeck now returns with a certain degree of pressure to improve Arsenal’s attacking options.
It’s now exactly a year since Welbeck signed for Arsenal from Manchester United. At the time, his future looked bright. He returned from the international break with goals under his belt and his confidence growing. His start in north London was good too, with a hat-trick on his Champions League debut against Galatasaray a particularly memorable contribution.
However, in the second half of the season Olivier Giroud’s form saw Welbeck relegated to the wings.
Eventually, he succumbed to bone bruising on his knee, an injury which has kept him out since April. He missed the FA Cup Final win over Aston Villa and the entirety of preseason. In that time, Theo Walcott has leapfrogged him in the pecking order for a place as Arsenal’s central striker. A hat-trick on the final day of the league season against West Brom saw him handed a start in that role for the cup final. It seems his days on the flank are behind him, and he has joined the race for the one striking spot at the Emirates Stadium. Welbeck has a lot of catching up to do.
He’s entirely capable of doing it. Walcott’s most recent performance as a striker, away to Newcastle, demonstrated quite how raw he still is in the position. His movement was ineffective, his finishing poor, and his hold-up play non-existent.
Olivier Giroud has not set the world alight at the start of this season either. At St. James’ Park, he was spotted on the substitutes bench twirling his fingers as if to encourage Arsene Wenger to take a chance and introduce him. However, when the manager eventually obliged, Giroud missed two decent opportunities to stake his own claim.
Welbeck’s finishing can be wayward too, but at his best he is composite of both Giroud and Walcott, combining some of their best attributes in one player. He has Giroud’s touch but Walcott’s speed; the Frenchman’s willingness to work for the team but the Englishman’s ability to beat a man. If he can add the requisite ruthlessness when in front of goal, he could yet be the all-round striker that Arsenal desperately require.
Welbeck needs to improve, but he has the right manager to help him do that.
Fortunately, Wenger’s habits extend beyond trotting out irritating cliches: he’s also got a handy knack of transforming players into elite goalscorers. Welbeck has all the key attributes required to develop in that direction—he simply needs to seize the opportunity.
Arsenal’s ‘new signing’ has the potential to be a new sensation if he can find his feet quickly upon his return.
Read more from James McNicholas, AKA @Gunnerblog