Arsene Wenger believes that Danny Welbeck has come back from injury a changed man, and that the striker’s 10 months out will help him to get the most from his obvious potential.
Welbeck has been excellent since returning in February from his long-term knee injury, scoring four goals and giving Arsenal more of a threat up front than they had for the last few months. While some players take time to readjust after injury, Welbeck in fact looks sharper now than he did before.
Wenger sees this too, and put the improvement down to Welbeck’s hunger to make up for lost time. “I think it is not physical, it is mental,” he said at his Friday morning press conference. “He looks like he realised he has to add something to his game. Maybe he was frustrated as well to be out for the first time for a long, long period. It has loaded him with mental determination. Before, he looked not certain of his game when he came to the finishing. But now he looks much more assertive in his game.”
Welbeck’s knee injury, sustained last April, was initially meant to keep him out until last Christmas but he did not return until 14 February, when he came on with seven minutes left against Leicester City before heading the crucial winner in added time. Wenger said that his motivation to improve came from his long time out.
“[Motivation] is always a combination of both external influence, and the suffering helps,” Wenger explained. “I am convinced of that. I read a recent study where it is scientifically proven that somebody, to get to the utmost of his talent, really has to suffer, to go through a period of suffering. That is why I am very grateful to the press!”
Arsenal have played Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott as a centre forward this season, but Welbeck almost represents a synthesis of the two, and therefore is more dangerous than either. “Danny has all the qualities that you need in the modern game,” he said. “He has pace, he has stature. If he adds that finishing quality he has all that you need.”
Goal-scoring has not been Welbeck’s strength, and that is why Louis van Gaal sold him to Arsenal in 2014. Wenger, though, was confident that Welbeck could improve even now, at 25 years old, just as other players of a similar profile have before him.
“It is a bit unusual,” Wenger said, of players improving finishing in their mid-20s. “But I have seen it before, especially from players who moved from the flanks to the middle. We have seen that with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang now at Borussia Dortmund, he was a very poor finisher on the flank. We have seen it with Thierry Henry. Hopefully we will see it with Welbeck as well. Mentally he looks ready for the challenge.”
Arsenal host Watford this weekend, knowing that a win would lift them back to eight points behind Leicester City. Wenger was did not sound impressed with Mesut Ozil saying that Arsenal have “messed up” their title bid, and told his players that they have to keep believing they can win it until they are mathematically out of the race. He will speak to Ozil about his comments.
“The statement was not welcome,” Wenger said. “We have to believe, no matter if it is just one chance in 100, we only have a real chance if we believe.”
“You have to make sure that you give absolutely your best,” Wenger said. “If somebody is better than you, that you have given your best. The worst thing for us would be not to believe, and then if we had a good run it was available, possible. We have to make sure that we play with passion until the end.”