Arsenal’s latest signing, Danny Welbeck, has the potential to become an excellent all-round striker.
He has a number of qualities - he’s tall, strong, quick and versatile. This means, depending on your interpretation, that he’s either the complete modern striker, or he’s adaptable enough to be shifted into different positions.
Welbeck prefers playing up front, but he’s likely to play in a number of roles, and in a variety of positions, as an Arsenal player.
Welbeck’s most obvious quality is his speed. Arsène Wenger has always liked playing speedy forwards at Arsenal, from Nicolas Anelka, to Thierry Henry, to Theo Walcott - and Welbeck is another in that mould.
Although capable of using his pace out wide, he particularly likes running in behind defences, something Manchester United have badly missed when Welbeck has been omitted over the past couple of years.
“With the magnificent players in midfield slotting balls through, I can run on to the end of those balls and slot them away,” Welbeck said in his first interview as an Arsenal player. “I like to bring pace and power to the game. At Arsenal, we're not short of combination football and I like to join in on that and get in behind defenders and try to get shots off at goal.”
Welbeck is capable of stretching teams, forcing them to defend deep to negate his speed. In turn, that creates space in front of the defence, for creative players to roam.
Last season, this was most obvious in Manchester United’s creditable 1-1 draw against reigning European champions Bayern Munich. Welbeck drifted between a left-sided starting position and a centre forward role, and was a brilliant battering ram, spearheading Manchester United’s attack.
He created himself three clear goalscoring opportunities through sheer speed, with an early ‘goal’ harshly disallowed for a foul. He missed a glorious one-on-one chance when tamely chipping the ball, and this is the area Welbeck must improve upon - his finishing. Although sometimes he looks clinical in front of goal, he needs to score more frequently to be considered an elite centre forward.
Still, Welbeck can reasonably argue that his modest goal return is because he’s so frequently been used wide. This is because Welbeck is far more tactically disciplined than most forwards, and is capable of tracking opposition full backs and marking deep-lying midfielders.
Sir Alex Ferguson often used him wide against dangerous attacking full backs, asking Welbeck to track back and then quickly sprint in behind. In Manchester United’s narrow defeat to Real Madrid in 2013, Ferguson’s last European game, Welbeck performed a superb man-marking job on deep-lying playmaker Xabi Alonso. Only after Nani was dismissed, and Welbeck was forced to go wide, did Alonso find freedom, allowing Real to dominate.
Another key aspect of Welbeck’s game is his pass completion rate, which is always exceptionally high for a forward - something that Wenger will particularly appreciate.
Welbeck is very precise and thoughtful with his distribution, often playing with his back to goal and calmly, very deliberately, steering the ball to team-mates with the inside of his boot. He’s not one for penetrative balls, but Arsenal have that elsewhere.
Welbeck’s pass completion rate of 87 per cent over the past couple of seasons is on par with that of Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla - an amazing figure for an attacker.
Surprisingly, Welbeck didn’t start against Arsenal in the past two seasons, but he did score on his last appearance at Emirates Stadium, grabbing the winner in Manchester United’s 2-1 win over Arsenal in 2011/12, a rare game where he played the duration as a centre forward.
It remains to be seen precisely where Welbeck is used for Arsenal, although Olivier Giroud’s injury absence means he should be afforded opportunities in his favoured striking role.
Wherever he plays, Welbeck’s pace, assured passing and tactical versatility makes him perfect for Arsenal.Source: Arsenal.com