Now Mediawatch likes Danny Welbeck. We like his hair. We like his rather long limbs. We like him so much we have petitioned Opta to introduce a ‘holding people off the ball by putting your arms out really wide’ stat just so Welbeck can be top of the charts.
What we don’t like is the ridiculous reaction of the media to his at-best-average form since signing for Arsenal, which is being highlighted in order to shame Louis van Gaal, who is apparently supposed to look at Welbeck’s TWO Premier League goals against Hull and Aston Villa and wail ‘what have I done? Oh good lord, what have I done?’
Those are the first two paragraphs of an edition of Mediawatch from November, when sixth-placed Arsenal were about to play seventh-placed Manchester United and the media’s chosen angle was that Van Gaal had dropped a massive bollock in selling Welbeck to the Gunners. ‘Van Gaal’s judgement over Welbeck is on the line,’ wrote David McDonnell in the Daily Mirror as he used the smoke and mirrors of Champions League goals to hide the fact that both Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney were outscoring Welbeck in the Premier League. Never mind the statistics, feel the narrative.
What happened next is that Welbeck was predictable in missing several chances against Manchester United in a 2-1 defeat (McDonnell’s own newspaper awarded him a 5/10), lost his striker’s position to Olivier Giroud and has now been missing for a month without anybody really noticing his absence. Van Gaal’s judgement may indeed be on the line for his team selections, but nobody is mentioning Welbeck’s name in a growing list of questions.
Paul Hayward writes in the Daily Telegraph on Monday about an ’embarrassment of riches in attack’ for Arsenal, but Welbeck’s name looks like an after-thought two-thirds of the way through the piece. Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mesut Ozil, Tomas Rosicky, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Welbeck are now eight options for three places behind a single striker; Welbeck is nowhere near the top of that list and a distant second behind Giroud in a short list of possible lone forwards.
We were amongst those who laughed at the Daily Mail’s Neil Ashton awarding the imperious Cazorla a 7/10 rating for his masterclass against Manchester City last week, but he was right to single out Giroud for high praise. The Frenchman has been incredible since his return from injury, perhaps buoyed by even nominally being made to fight for his place by Welbeck. It might be difficult to measure sublime hold-up play, but his record of a league goal every 104 minutes this season (not far inferior to Diego Costa’s 94-minute hit rate) stands up to any scrutiny. He is undoubtedly a better option than Welbeck in that role.
Which leaves Welbeck, facing another two weeks out injured, exactly where he was at Manchester United – a back-up striker with suspect finishing whose industry and pace means he remains an option in a wider role. October and giddy comparisons with Thierry Henry after a hat-trick against a rotten Galatasaray side now seem an awful long time ago. Barring another injury to Giroud, it’s now unlikely that Welbeck will play enough games to log ten league goals in a season for the first time in his career.
Absence is meant to make the heart grow fonder – his England colleague Daniel Sturridge has become world class in absentia – but Welbeck is simply being forgotten.