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22 Feb 2018

Arsenal: Danny Welbeck is running out of time

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A last minute addition

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A series of disappointments

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Last chance saloon

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No excuses

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Time is running out

(Photo credit: Aries Arsenal)

The summer of 2014 was happy and hazy for Arsenal fans. 

After years in the doldrums, an insipid transfer policy had been smashed by the capture of Mesut Ozil. 

The German's debut season in England had been patchy but his performances were put down to his adaptation in a new league, team and culture.

The expectations for his second season were emboldened by several notable additions. David Ospina addressed the flapping inconsistencies of Wojciech Szczesny, whilst Mathieu Debuchy was a boxy and dependable fullback. 

Even Joel Campbell was returning on the back of a wondrous World Cup with Costa Rica, joining another bright young prospect in Calum Chambers.

A last minute addition

Danny Welbeck’s signature felt like a bonus, a Wenger trolley dash that – for once – paid off. The iron-faced Louis van Gaal had deemed the Longsight-man surplus and a £16 million deal was signed on deadline day.

Arsenal fans weren’t concerned about where Welbeck would play. He wasn’t going to start ahead of Ozil and Sánchez, whilst Olivier Giroud was Wenger’s preferred option at centre-forward. 

As at Manchester United, Welbeck was a useful squad player and nothing more, a filler of holes across the forward line.

A series of disappointments

That summer has often felt very far away in the intervening years. None of those signings progressed as much as Wenger might have hoped. 

Some, like Ospina and Chambers, failed to grasp their opportunities. Mathieu Debuchy meanwhile, was scuppered by a horrendous injury that Hector Bellerin exploited.

At first, Welbeck bucked the trend. He was bright and mobile, a willing competitor from the bench either when Sánchez tired or when cup games loomed. 

He showed glimpses of his finishing ability by scoring 6 goals in 5 games during England’s qualifying campaign for the World Cup. 

That April, however, he withdrew from the squad with a severe knee injury that would keep him out for the closing stages of the season.  

Alas, it would be almost a year before he made a return to the first team, but his troubles weren’t over. Welbeck’s knees continued to fail him, robbing him of places in the 2015 FA Cup final and Euro 2016 a year later.

Last chance saloon

Debuchy’s unhappy stay was brought to an end when he joined St. Étienne in January. 

Welbeck, however, has been given one last chance to convince, even if it has been afforded more through circumstance than merit.

At 27, he is one of the oldest prodigies in the country, having been injured for half of his four-year spell at the club. 

His unease during last week’s win against Ostersunds FK was palpable; playing on an artificial surface in sub-zero conditions, his movement was staccato and his finishing pedestrian.

No excuses

In a press conference this week, Wenger admitted that Welbeck’s injuries had robbed him of his “youthful arrogance”. 

It’s a fair observation but it's also one more usually heard of a wide-eyed youth teamer, not a seasoned international with experience at two of Europe’s biggest clubs.

Welbeck’s contract might be expiring next year but this simply has to be his last audition in an Arsenal shirt.

He can take hope from the progress of Jack Wilshere, who fought his way back from identical struggles to put himself front and centre of Arsenal’s plans. 

Admittedly, the Gunners’ forward line might offer sterner competition than its’ weak midfield, but there can no longer be any more room for sentiment in North London.

Time is running out

Abou Diaby and Eduardo da Silva know only too well the value of Wenger’s patience, but both should have been jettisoned long before their eventual departures. 

It might be hard-nosed, but the Frenchman’s job depends on getting his side back into the Champions League. 

He can ill-afford to place his trust in a man for whom serious questions remain unanswered. 

With a fit body and clear head, Welbeck is finally in a position to answer them. Time, however, is running out.

Can Danny Welbeck return to Arsenal's starting lineup? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.