Arsene Wenger must unleash Danny Welbeck at Manchester United
Arsene Wenger will want to keep the Danny Welbeck-inspired victory over Manchester United last season fresh in the minds of the Arsenal players ahead of the trip to Old Trafford this Sunday.
Welbeck's first appearance at Old Trafford following his summer 2014 move to Arsenal came in the FA Cup fifth round last term, and the former United man bagged what turned out to be the winner in the 2-1 victory.
The victory was sweet because M16 has been an unhappy hunting ground for Arsenal, especially in the Premier League. Their last victory came in September 2006, when a late Emmanuel Adebayor goal secured a 1-0 win, and in the eight games since Arsenal have lost six and drawn two -- a grand total of two points from a potential 24.
That poor record is not the only concern. The fact that Wenger's team are not finding the net with anywhere near the regularity they should is genuinely troubling at this stage of the season. Every point is precious and there's little time to make up for any that get dropped along the way.
Having scored more than anyone else this season, and also having played more minutes than any other attacker apart from Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud is looking a little leggy at the moment. He's provided a couple of crucial assists recently, but hasn't scored since Jan. 13 when he bagged a double at Liverpool in a 3-3 draw.
Now seems as good a time as any to give him a break and give Welbeck a run in the team. Leaving aside how much fans enjoy seeing a player face his old side, we're heading into the end of February and until he made his comeback against Leicester, Welbeck hadn't played since last April. While there may well be some issues in terms of getting back to 100 percent match fitness, he'll certainly have fresh legs at a time in the season when they can prove very useful indeed.
If he does get the nod from Wenger, there's a real opportunity here for the 25-year-old. He's spoken about wanting to play more regularly as a central striker. He didn't get it at United, with others chosen ahead of him, and he had to be content playing wide. His pace, power and willingness to work make him an ideal candidate for that and sometimes a player's versatility can work against him.
Look at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who is yet to nail down a position at Arsenal. Welbeck has played wide for Wenger to good effect, but at a time when they're finding goals difficult to score, a successful spell as the main striker would be just the thing the team needs right now.
It's not as if they're not creating, they're just not finishing with any measure of efficiency or regularity. Welbeck isn't known as a prolific centre-forward, but he'll make the case that he's never been given a substantial run in that position.
What he offers is obvious. If Giroud is the archetypal front man -- big, strong, good in the air and willing to hold the ball up -- and Theo Walcott is a less conventional option, but one whose pace and movement can cause problems when defences allow themselves to be exposed to it, Welbeck lies somewhere in the middle.
He's tall enough to be a threat in the air -- exemplified by his late winner against Leicester on Feb. 14 -- and quick enough to leave most central defenders behind if he gets the right pass. He's technically excellent, something that might just help Arsenal find some rhythm.
In addition, Alexis Sanchez tends to prefer playing with a striker whose movement opens up spaces for him to create danger. Giroud is often the focal point of the attack, more static and central, with Arsenal trying to bounce off him to create opportunities. A more fluid player, as Welbeck can be, could be what Sanchez needs to find some form again. He's going to be an important part of any sustained title challenge, and while they'll need Welbeck to find the target, unless Alexis too starts firing, it's going to be a difficult task to take home a first title since 2004.
It remains to be seen if Welbeck can step and be "Dat Guy" for Arsenal between now and May, but with goals in short supply, Wenger really has little option but to give him a chance, starting on Sunday.