Danny Welbeck’s deadline day move to Arsenal has produced a plethora of diverse opinions.
The England international’s scoring record is the greatest source of division, some suggesting it shows great promise, others arguing it’s further evidence of how Arsene Wenger takes unnecessary short-cuts in the transfer market.
The pro-Welbeck camp certainly have a valid point. 26 goals in 116 Premier League appearances is hardly a return worthy of an international forward who has featured in the Champions League for the last three seasons, yet few of the 23 year-old’s Red Devils appearances have actually come in the striking role – the position he’s now expected to take for Arsenal with Olivier Giroud sidelined until the new year.
Instead, Welbeck has become a victim of his own versatility and broad range of skills. Rather than Sir Alex Ferguson or David Moyes attempting to hone the youngster in on his finishing ability, both United managers utilised him in the same way – a hard-working, athletically-gifted wide man, often employed in crucial marking roles, to improve United’s shape off the ball. It’s a forte Welbeck has largely excelled in – despite the limits of his goal tally – the most predominant example being his shackling of Xabi Alonso in the quarter-finals of the 2012/13 Champions League at Old Trafford.
That considered, reaching nine goals in two of the last three Premier League campaigns is a rather impressive feat, a contribution, in combination with his defensive work-rate and positive link-up play, that should not be sniffed at. Last season, amid demotion to a bit-part role under Moyes, Welbeck netted 0.55 goals every 90 minutes, which was actually more proficient rate than Olivier Giroud (0.47), Theo Walcott (0.52), Aaron Ramsey (0.51) and Mesut Ozil (0.21) – four of Arsenal’s five top scorers in the league.
Thus, the prevailing theory, as the title of this article suggests, is that Welbeck could undergo a similar transition to Daniel Sturridge upon his integration in to the Arsenal team, a hypothesis argued by The Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson, Chris Cutmore of The Daily Mail and mentioned, albeit in passing, by The Guardian’s Amy Lawrence.
Indeed, there are key similarities between the two cases. Sturridge’s pedigree was obvious throughout spells with Manchester City and Chelsea, but unable to break up expensively-cast, well-established strike-forces at both clubs – in direct parallel of how Welbeck has had to contend with Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney – it took a move to Liverpool in January 2013 for the Premier League public to truly take notice of the England international.
Sturridge never claimed more than 13 goals in a season for Chelsea, finding himself playing out wide in an unfavourable position as third fiddle to Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres. But upon his Anfield switch, which coincidentally came at Welbeck’s age of 23, Sturridge reached 30 Premier League goals for Liverpool (his overall return now being 32 in 46) faster than any striker since the 1890s. In the space of just over 18 months, he’s transformed into the most exciting home-grown striking talent of his generation.
So, can Danny Welbeck do a Danny Sturridge? Could his move to the Emirates instigate a metamorphosis of a forward, often maligned and rarely praised for his exploits in front of goal, into one of England’s and the Premier League’s leading net ripplers?
Well, although there are glaring similarities – Sturridge left Chelsea with a rate of just under one goal in four games, Welbeck leaves United with just over one goal in every five – there are also intrinsic differences that cannot be ignored, the most predominant being that the Liverpool striker was born to score goals.
With the exception of aerial prowess, he’s a very complete centre-forward who links well and can be as impactful in supporting or wide roles. As well as 21 goals, he found seven assists last season, creating at least one chance per match whilst averaging one key pass and 1.3 successful dribbles per match. But, due to his proficiency in front of goal, that side of Sturridge’s game is often overlooked; common opinion appears to be that he’s a more athletic reincarnation of Jermain Defoe, a striker famed and flawed by his limited contribution to open play.
But that in effect is an enormous testament to Sturridge’s quality as a finisher, and epitomises the gap between himself and Welbeck. At Chelsea, determined to prove his credentials for the central role, the 25 year-old was stigmatised as arrogant for his perpetual obsession with trying to the net from the most acute of angles – all the more considering he was yet to make 100 top flight appearances in a team assembled of multi-Premier League winners, but had the audacity to shoot from 20 or 30 yards out several times per match rather than pass the ball.
From what we know now however, it wasn’t overconfidence or greed – Sturridge had to shoot, because that’s what he was born to do. When it comes to finishing, he’s a natural. It is in his blood, after all, with uncles Simon and Dean Sturridge both retired front-men for Birmingham City and Derby County respectively.
Welbeck is more of a team player, which should not be looked at as a disadvantage. But in vital contrast to Liverpool’s leading forward, Welbeck was moved out wide specifically because his finishing abilities were not up to Manchester United’s standards.
Of course, van Persie and Rooney forge mighty competition, but if there’s one glaring, unavoidable weakness to the Arsenal signing’s game, it’s unquestionably his lack of composure in front of goal. His attempt to lob Manuel Neuer last season, despite being instructed beforehand to shoot low against the Bayern Munich No.1, is a key example to bear in mind. A short scan of Youtube will provide you with a plethora of similar instances.
When Sir Alex Ferguson has you in his first team for two straight seasons, you know you have something important to offer. But Ferguson never selected Welbeck for his goals – in fact, he persisted with the youngster throughout a 2012/13 campaign in which he netted just twice in all competitions. He was chosen for his loyalty, determination, incredible physical talents and positive contribution to build-up play. These are still where the England international’s predominant strengths lay.
And thus, although Welbeck will likely score more goals for Arsenal than he did for Manchester United after his first 100 games through more regular chances up top, paralleling Daniel Sturridge’s proficiency at Liverpool, or even come within its proximity, is a rather unrealistic order.
The Gunners may have found their Salomon Kalou, their Jay Rodriguez or perhaps their Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but not their answer to Daniel Sturridge.