11 September 2014

Can Man City stop Welbeck, or will Arsenal avenge last season's mauling?

6-3. Despite not being the most horrific scoreline of Arsenal's 2013-14 campaign, it stands out as the first of far too many, followed in short order by 5-1 to Liverpool and 6-0 to Chelsea. On its own, it seemed to stand alone as a shocking, shambolic departure from an otherwise stellar start that had us atop the Prem for 13 weeks in a row. But for a few dodgy offsides calls at the Etihad that disallowed Arsenal goals, we might have seen a different result. So it goes. A we look to Saturday's clash we'll go in with a lad with points to prove on several levels—Danny Welbeck, passed over by City and cast off by United. Can he make good on the promise he's tantalized us with but only rarely delivered?

Famously, or infamously, as these tales go, Welbeck had his chance with Man City 15 years ago but they "custard-pied" him. I'll let him tell the rest:
My Dad didn’t tell me at the time, it was just before Christmas and he didn’t want to break any bad news. It wouldn’t have mattered though. I am one of those people that if you are going to say something, just say it. I take it on the chin. Straight after Christmas I played in a tournament for my local side, Fletcher Moss, and that’s where United picked me up. I went for a trial and have never looked back since. I was always a Red anyway.
He may have to adapt to a different shade of red, but I'll take it. Here we have an age-old story of redemption. Passed over by one club, scooped up by their rival. Van Persied to the wings. Now, at Arsenal, he has a chance to make good on his vast promise. Fueled in part by a desire to avenge himself after City's snub and in part by a desire to prove himself after being rubbished at United, we may yet see the unveiling of a prodigious talent.

After a confidence-boosting brace against Switzerland earlier this week, I'm hoping that Welbeck seizes the opportunity on offer: a chance to prove wrong his doubters. He'll encounter a City defense in a bit of disarray with Zabaleta likely out (forcing Sagna into a bit of an awkward spot), Kompany still a bit gimpy after injuring his calf, and Demichelis, well, Demichelis. Against a back-line of Sagna, Kompany, Demichelis, and Kolarov, the pace and potential we can offer should inspire hope. Alexis, Welbeck, and Cazorla could very well make mincemeat of them, especially with the service that Ramsey, Özil, and Wilshere could offer. If Sagna and Kolarov are asked to get forward, well, expect a bit of space in behind them for Welbeck and Alexis to run into. Suffice it to say that none of City's likely midfield starters is renowned for his defensive grit: Nasri, Toure, Fernandinho, Silva.

With that as a backdrop, I'm especially interested in how Welbeck's debut will affect us and City. A season ago, they knew that they could expect a certain pattern from Arsenal: get forward, work the ball through Giroud until wingers could run off him, and try to score. Without Giroud as a focal point, and with Welbeck as a more-mobile, interchanging kind of centre-forward, we'll lack a clearly-defined focal point—as will City's defense. Will Welbeck imitate Giroud's very static and vertical positioning, or will he interchange horizontally with Alexis and Cazorla, daring City's back-line to use zonal marking to keep track or risk getting pulled out of shape?

However we cut the deck, Welbeck holds most of the cards. He has scores to settle and points to prove. Passed over by City. Groomed but discarded by United. Brought into Arsenal. It might be a bit much to expect a hat-trick, a brace, even a solitary goal, but I reckon he'll make his presence felt in one way or another, much to the dismay of the club that could have had him at the tender age of eight...