27 September 2014

North London Derby pick to click: Danny Welbeck

A match like tomorrow's can usually be counted on to deliver some historic, epic moments, with players rising above whatever previous form they had been in. Of late, this has been more true of Gunners than it's been of Spuds, but form matters little when the stakes are what they are. With that as a backdrop, it's anyone's guess who will rise to the occasion. Players new to the squad and to the Prem, like Alexis, may struggle to fully grasp what's at stake, for as much as they say so, but I'm not sure whether an el Clásico is as fraught with emotion and drama as the North London Derby. Even if it is, it asks a lot of a player who exerted himself so much as recently as Tuesday to step to the fore. Therefore, I'm looking to Danny Welbeck to have a break-through performance.

I'm not calling on him to deliver the kind of goal(s) that Rosický has bestowed in recent years. Heck, he might not score any goals at all. Even if he did score a nifty equalizing goal when he last faced Tottenham back in January, chipping one over the helpless Hugo Lloris (his fifth in five matches), Welbeck's contributions on Saturday are just as likely to register in other areas. early on in the season, he's making of menace of himself. Yes, he finally opened his Arsenal account last weekend against Aston Villa, but a goal and assist only scratch the surface of the role he has played to this point.

To be sure, he was brought in (much to the chagrin of Spurs, who were heavily linked to him as the summer transfer-window closed) to score goals, but one of the knocks against him had been that he doesn't quite have a nose for goal, a ruthless streak that would elevate his game to the next level. Rather than that counting against him, it may be the kind of asset that will get maximized at Arsenal. After having little choice but to defer to van Persie and Rooney positionally and otherwise, Welbeck seems to be finding a more-comfortable groove with the Gunners. Yes, the expectations on him to deliver are heavier, but the environs in which he's operating allow him more opportunities as well as outlets. We may not need him to bang in 20-25 goals per season, not that I'd object if he did. Instead, he's contributing in all sorts of ways that could help the squad as a whole perform to a higher level.

While admitting that we're looking at a sample size of only two Prem matches, one was the barn-burner against Man City, so we're not looking at waltzes in the park. 91.5% passing? That's a quantum leap ahead of Giroud's rate, which hovers in the 70s. 2.5 tackles per game is good for third in the squad behind Ramsey and Debuchy. He's won 2.5 aerial duels per game, again good for third behind Debuchy and Mertesacker. For those still insisting that he score goals, period, he's gotten just the one against Villa, but it's not for lack of trying. 4.5 shots per game is best in the squad, and he's putting 67% of these on-frame. But for a shot off the woodwork against City, we'd be hailing him as a savior. It's a game of inches and centimeters, though, and almost isn't quite good enough.

His goal and assist against Villa may matter more for his confidence and comfort going forward than they did against the Villans. No longer worrying about getting that first goal, he can go into the NLD a bit more at ease, and knowing the opponent and the rivalry suggests that he'll understand how much the match means to both sides. That's a nice balance to strike. The goal relieves pressure ahead of a very pressurized match. Without that goal, he might feel tighter and tetchier. Now that he's scored one, he can continue to focus on contributing in other areas, playing to his versatility and all-around game, not just to the expectations that he bag goal after goal. Again, though, I'm hardly averse to him getting one or two.

That should do it for now. I'm trying to get to sleep (it's past midnight as I write) but I'm too wound up. Hard to believe that the match is still 11 hours away. If you're looking for something to do, I hope you'll consider voting for this blog in the 2014 Football Blogging Awards. If you're so inclined, you can click here  or on the image you see there to go the ballot and enter Woolwich 1886 in the "New" category. There are several other categories to consider; you can leave this blank or vote for other sites as you wish. A quick email confirmation later and you're done. If you're the twittering type you can click here to vote via tweet.

Thanks in advance. 'Til tomorrow...