At first, it looked like a knock after a cross into the box, but this time, Danny Welbeck stayed down, in severe pain, the Emirates fell silent, in disbelief, everyone not understanding how something like this could have happened to him again.
The English forward now faces a long time away from the pitch with a broken ankle, another setback in a career ravaged by injuries, and a very harmful one for the player and for Arsenal.
There is never a good time for such an injury, but the timing can only make it worse. At 27, Welbeck is in his physical prime and is going towards the end of his contract, he’s able to negociate a good deal with either Arsenal or another club. An England international in his prime would have easily found a good deal in today’s market.
Welbeck will make a full recovery as he also did after his two 9-months lay-offs caused by knee injuries, but he will probably find himself without a club unless Arsenal count on him for the coming seasons. He is clearly highly rated by the Arsenal hierarchy, so a new deal isn’t totally impossible, given that it’s pretty much impossible to replace his impact.
32 goals and 15 assists in 129 games doesn’t look like a irreaplacable return but his impact is elsewhere, and his coaches know that, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger haven’t relied on him for no reason.
Welbeck is a tactical weapon, a squad player who has often been unleashed in the big games, his physicality, a blend of pace, power and stamina along with an impeccable workrate, versatility and a great tactical awareness are making him a coach’s dream. His performance against Real Madrid for Manchester United encapsulates that impact perfectly, topped with a goal. His FA Cup Final performance in 2017 also shows his qualities even after his knee injuries, tireless running, whether it’s in the channels or at the defenders.
His attributes don’t really appear in the stats because, even though he doesn’t score a lot, although he guarantees around 10 goals a season, he makes his teammates better, his relationship with Lacazette the prime exemple. Welbeck often runs into spaces that open shooting opportunities for the Frenchman, or knockdowns like Laca’s second goal at Fulham.
Some players do have the same physical traits or that tactical discipline but no one on the market has that overall skillset, Arsenal face a challenge to compensate for his performances during the rest of the season. In terms of a replacement, Eddie Nketiah is way younger and doesn’t have the same assets that make such a valuable squad player.
As for the external solutions, Arsenal could look to bring in a natural winger, a profile that the Gunners have been missing before, with players like Pavon and Nicolas Pépé linked. Reiss Nelson will remain for the season at Hoffenheim but might take Welbeck’s place in the squad next season.
With 5 goals and 1 assist in 604 minutes played this season, Welbeck has the second best minutes-to-goal ratio at Arsenal this season, behind Aubameyang, he was in very good form and looked suited to Unai Emery’s pressing style of play.
If Aubameyang and Lacazette continue to start together in the Premier League, Arsenal will lack an attacking option off the bench, as we saw against Wolves, Unai Emery bringing on 3 midfielders instead of the inexperienced Nketiah. It is likely that Unai Emery will opt for benching one of the two strikers in order to fit more players in their natural roles and to have an option on the bench when the game requires it.
Arsenal face a very heavy schedule in december and will feel that bad luck has been hitting them way too hard, as Welbeck had only missed 12 games since january 2017. For the player, it’s now a long road to recovery once again, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel, time will tell whether he will return as an Arsenal squad player or as a major attacker in a lower tier club.
The most important thing is that he makes a full recovery, and we wish him nothing but the best.
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