Football

Danny Welbeck is not a natural fit for Arsenal's system

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The praise for Danny Welbeck since his brace for England against Switzerland last evening in Basel has been a little over the top.

The Telegraph's Jeremy Wilson insisted that Arsenal had pulled off the 'deal of the window by spending £16 million to lure him from Manchester United, seemingly on the basis of his efforts last evening. The Mirror's John Cross decreed that "Welbeck’s goals were great examples of a poacher’s finish, they had the touch of a natural goalscorer about them" without realising that he was a skewed shin-shot away from one of the all-time great football Vines, rather than being the subject of lavish praise.

Mistake

Given that it's international week after the transfer window and there's not much to fill column inches, the "Welbeck sale will be Van Gaal's biggest transfer mistake" articles are predictably pouring onto the net like sewage from a leaking drain; there is perhaps a more pertinent question that can be asked following last night's action. Regardless of how he took them, Welbeck showed a certain nous to get on the end of two England moves - so can he really be the main man at Arsenal up front?

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Of course the reason that question has to be asked is because he has rarely been given a chance to shine in a central position at Old Trafford, not necessarily because he couldn't be trusted there but because generally speaking Manchester United had better options in Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney.

Stats

A glance at his stats from last season show he averaged 0.36 goals-per-game compared to Olivier Giroud's 0.44-pr-game. That's a favourable comparison for the £16 million man given he spent much of his time either on the wing or the bench. He has a 53% shot accuracy which is better than Giroud managed (43%), so things are looking good right?

It seems Welbeck has the raw material at his disposal to play the role. But there is a nagging doubt over whether he's the right man for Arsenal's system. Welbeck is a counter-attack player - he's fast, direct and has good energy levels while being technically deficient - his run and attempt to find either Wayne Rooney or Raheem Sterling only to pass straight to a Swiss defender highlighted that perfectly last night -  But that isn't Arsenal's game.

Possession

In the first three games of the season they've had more of the ball than any other team in the league (more than 66%), they have the highest pass completion rate (87.4%) and two Arsenal players (Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey) are in the top three most prolific passers in the league. Simply put, they are not a counter-attack team, but a patient, possession-based outfit.

When it comes to passing, Welbeck doesn't compare favourably to Giroud.The Frenchman completed 10 more passes a game than his new rival, laid on seven more assists across last season, and doubled his key-pass ratio (0.81 to 0.48-per-game). 

One of Arsenal's key strengths is scoring goals from other areas of the pitch. Fans worried when Wenger didn't sign a top-level forward but that betrayed a mis-understanding of the approach he is going for; he has midfield runners coming in off a target front-man like Giroud. 40 of Arsenal's out of 92 goals in all competitions came from midfielders last season.

Spread the load

The load is spread, so the need for a 30-goal forward is reduced, and Giroud is the ideal foil for his team-mates to ping the ball to and expect it back.  Welbeck isn't as strong with his back to goal and will struggle to play there, so unless the notoriously stubborn Wenger is willing to fundamentally alter his game plan to suit Welbeck there could be an issue.

There's certainly a case to be made for Arsenal signing Welbeck and for the deal to be a good move; he can be a much more effective option from the left than Lukas Podolski, while he can run teams ragged as an impact sub. He won't play much of a part in the construction of Arsenal's build-up play but passers will always find him to be a willing runner. Sadly his chances to shine in the middle as he did with England last night may well be limited.

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Topics:
Arsenal
Manchester United
Football
Danny Welbeck

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