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Why 10 Goals Is a Realistic Aim for Arsenal's Danny Welbeck's 2015/16 EPL Season

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistAugust 7, 2015

Arsenal's English midfielder Jack Wilshere and Arsenal's English striker Danny Welbeck react during the Arsenal victory parade in London on May 31, 2015, following their win in the English FA Cup final football match on May 30, 2014 against Aston Villa. Arsene Wenger's side made history at Wembley with a 4-0 rout of Aston Villa that underlined their renaissance in the second half of the campaign and served as a warning to English champions Chelsea.     AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL        (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)
LEON NEAL/Getty Images

After just one year at Arsenal, Danny Welbeck finds himself in a somewhat awkward position. After missing the entirety of pre-season with a knee problem, he is now third in line for the centre-forward spot. Given his tumble down the attacking hierarchy, scoring over 10 goals would have to be regarded as something of an achievement.

Welbeck’s arrived at Arsenal around a year ago in strange circumstances. Shortly before the transfer deadline, Olivier Giroud suffered a broken leg. With Yaya Sanogo failing to convince as his understudy, Arsene Wenger was forced into an emergency signing. It did not seem as if recruiting Welbeck was part of any long-term plan—it was a short-term measure designed to alleviate a temporary problem.

However, it still gave the England international the chance he craved. With Giroud sidelined, he was handed regular starts in his preferred position as a central striker. Welbeck’s Arsenal career started promisingly—after opening his account with a beautiful counter-attacking goal against Aston Villa, he went on to score an outstanding hat-trick against Galatasaray in the Champions League. The image of Welbeck in front of the North Bank, arms outstretched, announcing himself to the Arsenal faithful remains one of the iconic moments of 2014/15. It felt like the start of something special.

However, Welbeck’s goal contribution tailed off as the season wore on. When Giroud returned, he found himself confined to the wings, just as he was at Manchester United. That, in turn, seemed to dent his confidence and reduce his goalscoring potential. Welbeck finished the campaign with just eight goals—only four of which came in the Premier Leaguewhich is some way short of what was envisaged when he arrived in north London.

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - APRIL 11:  Danny Welbeck of Arsenal arrives prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Burnley and Arsenal at Turf Moor on April 11, 2015 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

It’s not that he lacks ability. Having come through the Manchester United academy, Welbeck is highly technically proficient. His link play is marvellous, and he can produce a dazzling array of finishes, from impudent chips to acrobatic volleys.

His primary problem seems to be one of confidence. There is a lack of conviction in his finishing. It’s not that he hits every effort wildly off target, either. According to Squawka, he tested the goalkeeper with 53 per cent of his shots in 2014/15—that’s higher than the ratio managed by Giroud, who ousted Welbeck for the centre-forward spot.

However, all too often, his shots will be struck tamely at the 'keeper. He doesn’t yet have the killer instinct possessed by all great strikers. In front of goal, he can be prone to panic, and at the highest level, that’s perilous. He may get over it in time—Thierry Henry was once a nervous finisher—but there is a mounting fear that Welbeck’s profligacy is an inherent trait rather than a mere sign of immaturity.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 04:  Jordan Henderson of Liverpool argues with referee Anthony Taylor as Emre Can of Liverpool is sent off for a challenge on Danny Welbeck of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at Emirat
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

His movement could certainly improve too. In some respects, he’s very intelligent in his position, dragging defenders away and constantly creating space for others with selfless sprints. However, in order to become a more regular goalscorer, he needs to make more dashes into dangerous areas. 

Welbeck could arguably benefit from being more selfish. He could learn something from Giroud, who has mastered the art of making an early run to the near post. A good deal of his goals from that area, demonstrating exactly the kind of nous that Welbeck currently lacks.

Once he recovers from the bone bruising that has kept him out since the spring, he’ll be determined to fare better this season. However, that won’t be easy. Before he can focus on goal tallies, Welbeck first has to find a way back into the team. In a squad as packed with talent as Arsenal’s, that would be no mean feat.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 04:  Emre Can of Liverpool appeals after fouling Danny Welbeck of Arsenal  during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on April 4, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

The biggest problem for Welbeck is the redeployment of Theo Walcott as a centre-forward. Last season, Welbeck represented the obvious alternative to Giroud. If Wenger wanted to use a striker with greater mobility and speed, Welbeck would be that man.

Now, Walcott has seemingly superseded him for that role. At the back end of last season, Wenger seemingly decided that Walcott’s most effective position was now as a striker. Although he has spent years playing on the flanks for the Gunners, their style has now evolved in such a wa their wingers need a better all-round game than Walcott is able to provide. However, Wenger can make use of his speed and finishing through the middle, where he is liberated from defensive responsibility.

That means Welbeck is going to find games as a striker—and thus goalscoring opportunities—harder to come by. He may even find that he and Walcott have effectively swapped positions within the squad. If Walcott is now seen as a forward, Welbeck may find that the flank becomes his de facto domain. 

Arsenal's English striker Danny Welbeck (L) cross the ball past Chelsea's Spanish defender Cesar Azpilicueta during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium in London on April 26, 2015.
AFP PHOTO / ADRI
ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

That would be bad news for his goalscoring ambitions—and potentially his future at Arsenal. Welbeck is clear that he sees himself as a centre-forward, but it’s possible Wenger doesn’t share his vision. Even on the wings, games will be hard to come by. Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would both be ahead of him in the pecking order, with the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere also facing the possibility of being forced onto the flanks to accommodate Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil in the midfield.

The troubling fact for Welbeck is he’s unlikely to be taken seriously as a central striker until he breaks through the 20-goal barrier. However, his opportunity to do that was last season. With Giroud and Walcott sidelined for long periods, Welbeck had the chance to establish himself as Arsenal’s first-choice centre-forward.

It was an opportunity, like so many others, he regrettably spurned. With an injury to contend with, as well as fierce competition, Welbeck’s ambitions may have to be revived. Reaching double figures would represent progress on last season and a reasonable contribution for a player with his limited role.

 

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout 2015/16. Follow him on Twitter here.

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