In a fair world, there could realistically only be one Man of the Match from Thursday’s Europa League clash. CSKA midfielder Aleksandr Golovin was easily the best player on the pitch for the majority of the match, and he very nearly inspired his team to a 3 goal lead in the second half as all the momentum was swinging in the hosts’ direction. However, the world is not fair, and this just so happens to be an Arsenal website, so anyone hoping to see Golovin take the honours will just have to wait a year or two for the Gunners to buy the midfielder.
It may have felt like Arsenal were in control of their own destiny heading into the second leg with a 3 goal lead, but the doubts began to creep in as CSKA, growing in confidence after their energetic start, scored their second goal and quickly threatened to score another from a free kick soon after. Meanwhile, the Gunners were once again dealing with a lack of cohesion in their attacking play, failing to turn their possession into any dangerous moments in front of the CSKA goal. Only Laurent Koscielny, who was Arsenal’s most influential defender, did anything of note, as he stepped off his line to intercept the ball on more than one occasion.
For the first hour, only Danny Welbeck looked likely to provide a spark, as his pace down the left was causing some problems for the CSKA defence, but the Gunners were reluctant to attack in numbers due to the hosts’ lethal counter attack and he had little support to get anything done. That all changed in the 75th minute however when Welbeck found a bit of space galloping in from the left. He played a pass slightly backwards into the feet of Mohammed Elneny and bent his run through the Moscow backline. Elneny fed him a perfect return pass and Welbeck made no mistake, burying his curled effort just inside the right post. It was a true strikers goal from the Englishman, and one that supporters haven’t come to expect from him.
Welbeck has arguably been the best Arsenal player in the last two matches, and he is on fire in his last 5 matches, scoring 5 and assisting 1 while helping the Gunners settle into their current 7 match unbeaten run. He has been able to stay healthy throughout the majority of the campaign, and he no longer looks a player that is trying to work his way back into the groove after a long spell on the sidelines. His pace and power have always been there, but he looks more comfortable than ever on the ball, his goal a pure Wenger-approved 1-2 combination that wouldn’t have looked out of place if Thierry Henry had been the one to perform it.
Watching Welbeck these last few matches, you can see a player finally starting to figure things out at the top level. Against Southampton last weekend and Thursday against CSKA, Welbeck was aggressive on the ball, showing a real desire to run at defenders and make things happen for his team. Unlike many forwards, he doesn’t stop working when he is forced to track back, and he will selflessly drop back into the midfield to help defend if the team is getting overrun. His positive attitude and light-hearted nature seem to have won over his teammates, and one only has to see the way they congratulate their man when he scores to know how they feel about him.
He wasn’t brilliant against CSKA (no Gunner was) but his goal was absolutely essential to relieving the pressure that was starting to building Arsenal as their 3 goal advantage started to slip away. The absence of Henrikh Mhkitaryan leaves the Gunners without their second best creator after Mesut Ozil, but Welbeck brings a different dimension (and arguably a bigger goal threat) to the team when he plays. He can be an effective aerial presence in the box, something his Armenia teammate cannot come close to equaling, and his work rate is the best of any Arsenal striker. It may have taken him the better part of the match to finally break through, but for his timely goal and continued progression as a contributor to this Arsenal squad, he is your Man of the Match.