Throughout much of the last two seasons, one of the biggest problems at Arsenal has been the clear step down in quality when Arsene Wenger, by choice or by necessity, rotates his squad. Too often, the removal of names like Ozil and Ramsey from the team sheet meant a struggle was far more likely. No matter who is on the pitch, the Gunners are comfortable in possession, but moments of true dynamism from members of the squad have been few and far between of late.
Therefore it was nice to see the heavily rotated side that started at the Emirates on Sunday against Southampton was able to get the job done, scoring 3 en route to squeaking win over a very energetic opponent. Reiss Nelson received most of the attention before the match as he was named a starter for the first time in a Premier League game. The 18 year old flashed at times in his hour on the pitch, but he certainly learned a lesson about the intensity of the top flight against a team currently in the relegation zone. Alex Iwobi was effective in the number 10 role, floating around with an almost Ozil-esque freedom while trying to find gaps in the compact Southampton defence.
The combined strike force of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette (who replaced his Gabonese teammate with 20 minutes to play) was lively and dangerous, with the former using his pace to cause the defenders problems and the latter his linkup play and quickness in the middle. However, the only man who should ultimately be considered the match’s best is the oft-criticised Danny Welbeck. The Englishman performed his duties with his usual dogged effort, but he added an element of close control and drive to his position on Sunday. His first goal came after he drove at the Southampton defence, cutting in from the left, using his strength and determination to bull past 2 before firing a low shot toward the left side of the goal. The ball clipped a heel and skipped over goalkeeper Alex McCarthy for the Gunners’ second of the night.
If anything, his assist to Aubameyang for the first goal was the most uncharacteristic play he made on the day, as he neatly clipped a bouncing pass with his heel over toward the striker, who poked the ball home just as he was flattered to the turf. It looked like something directly out of Olivier Giroud’s bag of tricks from his time here, and it helped bring Arsenal back into a game that looked set to slip away. The Gunners had seen a lot of possession in the first half, but until Aubameyang’s goal, they were stymied by Southampton’s organisation. The goal brought confidence to the team and doubt to the minds of the visitors, paving the way for Welbeck’s goal to take the lead.
The second half saw the Saints press on, and with the help of the poaching Charlie Austin (4 goals in 4 games against Arsenal), were able to tie the score in the second half. Welbeck then fluffed the easiest chance any player would have all game inside the 6 yard box on an Iwobi cross, seeming to tarnish the good work he had done to that point with missed opportunity. However, just moments later Iwobi got the ball on the right edge of the penalty area and hesitated for a moment to allow runs to develop. He then chipped his left footed effort to the back post and a waiting Danny Welbeck, who bagged his brace and sealed the win for the Gunners, 3-2.
Danny Welbeck is one of many polarizing figures in the Arsenal dressing room, but no fan can ever doubt his work rate. He does not possess the light footed grace of Ozil or the finishing ability of the £100million duo of Lacazette and Aubameyang, but he is tall, pacey and powerful, which has led to him being the player Gareth Southgate called on to replace Harry Kane in the Three Lions team when the Tottenham man went down with an injury. As with Hector Bellerin and Granit Xhaka, the stress of not winning as many trophies as expected has forced some fans to focus too much on what some players cannot do, and not enough on the things they can do well. No, Welbeck will never be the next great England striker as some may have thought in his teenage years, but in a chilly, wet and physical battle against a team fighting desperately to stave off relegation, he can be the man to win you a match with his perseverance. For his 3 goal involvements, high work rate and match winning performance, Danny Welbeck is your Arsenal Man of the Match.