It only took Danny Welbeck two Champions League appearances with Arsenal to become only the sixth Englishman to score a hat-trick in the European competition. The 23-year-old forward, who signed from Manchester United on Deadline Day, became only the third Gunner to score a hat-trick in the Champions League, after Thierry Henry and Nicklas Bendtner.
Cynics will say that Welbeck’s performance against Galatasaray was a “one-off”, a product of Arsenal playing against an overwhelmed Turkish side who will be fortunate to finish third in Group D. But that theory is misguided and unfair to Welbeck and the progress he has made since the forward first broke into Manchester United’s first team in 2008 as a seventeen-year-old.
Welbeck’s play outside of the box is unstoppable at times. He can terrorize defenses with his quickness, strength and touch. Where he has lacked over the years has been in his consistency in finishing.
Whether that’s because he was shuffled around various positions while playing for United, or because he simply lacks the ability to be a reliable goalscorer, will be determined over his next few seasons with Arsenal.
But Wednesday night against Galatasaray, Welbeck put on a performance that reminded those who witnessed it of the past performance of Arsenal-great, Thierry Henry.
The similarities have already been made between the two players. Henry started his club career with Monaco, who were then managed by Arsene Wenger.
Initially, the French manager elected to play Henry as a left-winger because he believed his pace, ball control and skills would be more effective against full-backs.
Henry won French Young Footballer of the Year in 1996 and helped Monaco win the Ligue Un title. The following season he would lead his club to a semi-final finish in the Champions League, setting a French record by scoring seven goals in the competition.
Henry spent five seasons in Monaco, scoring 20 league goals in 105 appearances, before moving on to Juventus for one season. He was then reunited with Arsene Wenger at Arsenal in 1999, where the Gunners boss decided to mold the winger into a striker.
What followed was an eight-year career which saw Henry amass 174 goals in 254 appearances, while becoming one of the club’s most legendary players; as well as the Premier League.
Danny Welbeck is not Thierry Henry.
But the former Manchester United player does share similar statistics to Henry if you compare their early careers at their respective European clubs – Welbeck scored 20 goals in 90 appearances for United.
Welbeck has never had the benefit of consistent first team play at one club, or at one position. During the early part of his career, the forward bounced around on loan spells at Preston North End and Sunderland, where he was given an opportunity to gain experience before rejoining United. But when he returned to his parent club, Welbeck had to fight for his position against Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, and other big name centre-forward signings.
Sir Alex Ferguson and his successor David Moyes elected to play him on the left or the right side most of the time. Welbeck accepted that role and performed well. But he has shown while playing for England that he can be productive as a striker; 10 goals in 28 international appearances.
Louis van Gaal was brought in this summer and after a few weeks of analysis the Dutchman determined that Welbeck was expendable. United were unable to find a buyer outside of England, so the Mancunian was sold to Arsenal for £16 million on Deadline Day.
Welbeck has all the tools to be a very good striker in the Premier League, and he is already benefiting from the chance to play regularly at that position.
Wenger believes that he didn’t get enough opportunities to play as a striker at Manchester United, and that is a accurate assessment. The Arsenal manager has confidence in Welbeck’s ability to consistently produce as a centre-forward, and he is going to give the 23-year-old every opportunity to do that over the coming weeks and months.
The former United player did have ‘hot’ spells while with the Manchester club where it looked as though he was about to turn the corner and become an impact player. But for various reasons it just never materialized for the player.
Will Danny Welbeck duplicate the career of Thierry Henry at Arsenal? More than likely…no.
Most would hope he doesn’t follow in the footsteps of Nicklas Bendtner.
But after five matches in all competitions, Welbeck has fit in nicely with Arsene Wenger’s side while showcasing some promising performances. He has clearly benefited consistent first-team play and the philosophy of Arsene Wenger.
Should Welbeck’s production continue, it bodes well for him – and for Arsenal.
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