01 September 2014

Danny Welbeck= Thierry Henry 2.0. There. I said it.

So, the transfer-window has closed and we have the center-forward we need. He's been signed in Arsène's favorite transfer-fee range, £16m or so.  He's been van Persied into irrelevance, if not oblivion, forced to play wide when his strengths and instincts clearly indicated that he should play through the centre. No, he's not Falcao or Cavani or Costa, but he brings with him buckets of potential that have been left to languish at Old Trafford while he carried water for the likes of van Persie and Rooney. Rather than do so for Falcao, he's seen the writing on the wall and come to a club that can make the most of his prodigious talents. No, he may not boast the stats that other transfer-targets could, but I seem to remember that the same was true of a certain Frenchmen who came into the club and went on to accomplish a feat or two.

Do I oversell the man? Perhaps. However, like Henry, he comes to Arsenal unheralded but for his potential. Like Henry, he's delivered some of his best performances to date playing through the middle and has suffered a bit when played wide. Like Henry, he offers pace, technique on the ball, and a flair for the dramatic and indefensible (in both senses, you can't defend his decision to try something nor can anyone defend him when he does). His has been a career of jaw-dropping and head-slapping moments, borne of how he's been used or misused.

At Man U, he's been van Persied. Like other potentially dynamic players, he's been forced out of his preferred role. At Arsenal, it was Arshavin, Chamkah, and Bendtner who had to defer to the Dutch Skunk. Their performance and confidence all suffered, in most cases never to return. Even a player of Rooney's level needed a season of accomodation to figure out how to play alongside (behind) van Persie. How was Welbeck to find his way in that pecking order, in Moyes's dour, pessimistic system? Long story short, he couldn't. Few in his position could, and his performance and confidence suffered.

Thierry Henry, Welbeck's childhood idol, criticized Welbeck for playing without confidence in the World Cup, suggesting that Welbeck was playing it safe instead of asserting himself. This criticism, it must be noted, came after a season in which Welbeck was asked, implicitly and forcefully, to defer to others, Rooney among them for club and country. Played out of position, told to be a water-carrier for others, what choice did the man have but to relegate his pace and power to his would-be betters?

At our end, of course, Welbeck suffers for entirely different reasons. We had built ourselves up to expect a Falcao, a Carvalho, a signing that would cause jaws to drop and tongues to wag. In most other windows, perhaps, this signing would do that. However, in a window in which we've seen Chelsea sign our own prodigal son, City seize Sagna, and Man U burn through some £200m in transfer fees alone, Welbeck's arrival was bound to suffer—and this says little or nothing about wages. Falcao will apparently be paid £360m a week to play for Man U, which says a lot about one of two factors: their ability to abide by FFP or their complete disregard for FFP. It's a bit of a spectrum, with points at two extremes and nothing in the middle.

Enough of other clubs. Bring the lad to Arsenal, and, like Henry, the 23-year old striker-cum-winger could finally make good on the prodigious talent that everyone agrees he has. When he's been allowed to play through the middle, he's delivered—six goals in six games at last check. How might he perform as a club's out-and-out centre-forward, playing for a manager as renowned for player-development as is Arsène? Sure, the signing of Welbeck suffers by comparison to the glitz and glamour of other clubs' signings. Had we signed him earlier in the window, we might be thrilled. If we're a bit deflated, well, that's all the more reason for Welbeck to deliver on his promise, isn't it?