Danny Welbeck delivered an impressive performance against West Brom to ease the pressure on Arsene Wenger. Now he just needs to demonstrate better consistency…
It says something about Arsenal’s recent form that Saturday’s match-winner Danny Welbeck highlighted the significance of a clean sheet against West Brom. “We think the clean sheet is very important,” he said in his post-match interview. “And we always believe in ourselves to score goals.” After grabbing his first in seven matches with a brilliant second-half header, Welbeck looked suitably satisfied with his telling contribution.
Arsene Wenger will be encouraged by more than just the striker’s goal after the 1-0 victory over the Baggies. Starting alongside Olivier Giroud for the first time, Welbeck delivered one of his most mature displays so far for the Gunners. While his third Premier League strike since a £16m move from Manchester United proved decisive, temporarily lifting Arsenal back into the top four, his all-round play suggested he could be the perfect foil for the Frenchman.
When the team sheets were announced shortly before kick-off, Wenger’s starting line-up hinted that Welbeck might return to the wing. It would have been a major blow for a player desperate to cement his role in the centre.
“Over the past year or so, I started to think about what’s best for me,” he said recently of his decision to leave United before facing his former club. “I was playing on the left wing a lot and in a 4-4-2, which is very difficult for me because I can’t make an impact on the game.” Despite Welbeck’s pleas to play in the middle, Giroud’s return looked to have ended his chances.
However, as Saturday’s tedious encounter gradually unfolded, the 24-year-old’s position just behind Giroud became clearer. With Santi Cazorla drifting left, where he was supported by Kieran Gibbs, Welbeck was allowed to roam across the front line, recording more touches in central areas than on either of the flanks as he lurked around the 18-yard line.
The freedom allowed the forward to excel. An early diagonal run and shot brought a fine save from Ben Foster, before his cute touch on the edge of the area set up Santi Cazorla for a low drive. No Arsenal player created more chances than Welbeck during the 90 minutes, while he also recorded the third-highest passing accuracy in the opposition half of every Gunners player to start the match.
It was not only in attack that Welbeck proved effective. As well as his impressive link-up play in the final third – notably with Cazorla, who claimed his third assist in two matches after none in the previous 15 – the forward exhibited the work rate that helped make him a fan favourite at Old Trafford. His battling qualities were underlined by recording more tackles than any of his teammates as West Brom’s attempts to counter-attack were constantly thwarted.
The aim now for Welbeck is to demonstrate better consistency after finding the net in just four of his 14 appearances for Arsenal. Wenger will hope that Saturday’s impressive performance is the beginning of a more tangible contribution as he looks to guide his team through a sticky patch of form.
“He is a striker who plays left, right and centrally but for me it’s not important,” he said afterwards. “We have so many crosses coming in you always have a chance if you stay on the flanks as well.”
While the result eased some of the pressure on Wenger, a section of the travelling support unveiled a banner which read: ‘Arsene: Thanks for the memories, but it’s time to say goodbye.’ The manager was visibly frustrated by the protest in his post-match interview but, after back-to-back victories and successive clean sheets, he will hope he can still convince supporters his time at the club is far from over.