A few eyebrows were certainly raised when Danny Welbeck was included in Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad.
While the Arsenal forward’s goalscoring record at international level – 15 goals in 36 games – is tough to dispute, a whopping 18 English players have scored more times than him in the Premier League this season, including Glenn Murray, Troy Deeney and Callum Wilson who were all left out of the 27-man squad.
But Welbeck timed his defiance of critics perfectly on Thursday night, just hours after Southgate’s squad announcement, with a match-winning brace in the second leg of Arsenal’s Europa League clash against AC Milan to book the north London outfit a place in the quarter-finals – albeit under somewhat dubious circumstances having converted a penalty that he won himself with what replays confirmed to be the most exaggeration of falls to the floor.
Welbeck – who also impressed in the first leg – completed his brace in the closing stages, heading home a rebound from point-blank range. But more than just his goals though, the 27-year-old offered the Gunners a clear focal point in attack that allowed them to dominate the visitors for long periods; he tellingly won four aerial duels, created two chances and completed 81% of his passes, demonstrating his ability to bring others into the same in advantageous positions.
Of course, that side to Welbeck’s game has never been the concern. He’s always provided to energy, physicality and industriousness in the final third to help move the team up the pitch and create opportunities for others.
But when the former Manchester United youngster – who Transfermarkt value at £13.5million – adds goals to that kind of service too, it’s easy to see why Southgate has retained faith in him despite a modest season at domestic level, especially with Harry Kane absent for the coming friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy.
And it’s good news for Arsenal too. With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang cup-tied, it will be down to Welbeck and Alexandre Lacazette – who is coming to the end of his injury spell – to find the goals in the Europa League that can secure the Gunners Champions League football for next season.
So, Arsenal fans, who do you see as the club’s best strike option in Europe’s second-string tournament? Let us know by voting below…