Danny Welbeck delivered an impressive demonstration of what he offers the Arsenal team in a narrow 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace.
Despite holding a two-goal advantage for long periods, Arsenal spent most of the game on the back foot. Palace worked incredibly hard and were able to sustain long periods of pressure on the Arsenal goal.
In that kind of situation, someone like Welbeck is invaluable. He was one of the Arsenal players with both the athleticism and desire to keep pace with a jet-propelled Palace.
He brings balance to the side. Arsene Wenger named a very attacking line-up, with Welbeck joining Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez in the starting XI. Ordinarily, it would be impossible to field such an array of forwards. However, Alexis and Welbeck are unusual in that they are prepared to drop back into midfield when required.
That’s why Welbeck is currently getting the nod over Theo Walcott: He effectively covers two positions at once.
However, he is first and foremost an attacker, and he did his duty with heavy involvement in both Arsenal goals.
Welbeck’s recent goalscoring ratio is not particularly good. The summer signing’s overall record for the 2014/15 campaign now stands at seven goals in 23 appearances. However, this match was an effective illustration of the wider contribution he can make to Arsenal’s attacking game.
The three points arguably flattered the Gunners. At the back, Arsenal’s centre-back pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny was not particularly convincing, and with Hector Bellerin injured, a lack of pace at full-back saw the Gunners frequently exposed on the flanks. Had Wilfried Zaha been able to convert some impressive runs into end product, the scoreline might have been very different.
As it was, goals at each end of the first half saw Arsenal in a surprisingly secure position.
Prior to the match, Palace boss Alan Pardew had talked about the need for new signing Pape Souare to adjust to the tempo of the Premier League, as reported by Matthew Scott on Goal.com. In the eighth minute, the Senegalese looked well off the pace as he allowed himself to be robbed by Welbeck before tripping the England international on the edge of the box.
The contact started outside the area but appeared to continue inside, and a penalty was duly awarded. Santi Cazorla converted his sixth penalty of the campaign—the highest tally in the Premier League.
Arsenal’s second goal came shortly before the half-time whistle. A long ball forward from David Ospina was brought down by Giroud, whose delicate interplay with Ozil released Alexis. The Chilean’s through ball found Welbeck, who made his second telling contribution of the match to beat the offside trap and fire in a left-footed shot than Julian Speroni could only parry.
Giroud showed surprising swiftness to get to the ball and finish the move he started to claim the 50th goal of his Arsenal career.
Arsenal’s new-look attacking unit is clicking into gear. Had they not been encumbered by a patchy pitch, the Gunners might have grabbed more goals on the break. Instead, they had to withstand a late barrage from Palace in which Glenn Murray grabbed a goal and struck the post.
Wenger should persist with this attacking set-up for the Champions League against Monaco, with Welbeck reassuming his place on the right flank. Against Palace, not only was he crucial to Arsenal taking the lead, he also saw the job through by helping them protect it.