Danny Welbeck’s Arsenal record so far reads; 2 games, 0 goals, several missed opportunities. A large share of fans at Manchester United, Welbeck’s club up until a late August transfer, won’t have been surprised by his performances for his new team. The homegrown England international picked up a reputation as a patchy finisher during his time at Old Trafford. Is this perception justified? What is the fairest way to evaluate Welbeck’s overall contribution on the pitch? We look at the data.
Welbeck’s 20 goals in 90 games for United is a respectable tally, for a winger. When he is classed as a centre-forward, this record is devalued severely. But Welbeck hasn’t played consistently in his favoured position up front, often used by previous managers Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes in a wide position.
From the flanks, Welbeck’s contributions for United last season certainly don’t appear to be in the class of legendary wingers such as Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo. He averaged a lower number of dribbles per game (9.9) than Luis Nani (13.3) or Adnan Januzaj (15.2), averaged the lowest number of crosses per game from open play of any United winger (0.2), and averaged a lower % of goals from his shots (16.2 %) than either Ashley Young (17.5%) or Januzaj (23.3%).
Play him further forward, however, and the weight of his contribution appears to grow significantly in comparison. He was the 2nd most frequent dribbler in United’s frontline behind Wayne Rooney (9.2) with an average of 7.5 dribbles per game. His average of shorts per game (3.5) is just short of Rooney’s squad high 3.6, while his goal-per-game ratio from the centre forward position was the highest of any United player – 0.8.
“He had a very lively first half,” said Welbeck’s new manager Arsene Wenger after his Champions League debut against Borussia Dortmund, which ended in a disappointing 2-0 away defeat. “He had two or three good chances but couldn’t finish them.”
Wenger’s assessment could have summed up a lot of pundits’ opinions on Welbeck. Despite the small goal total, he has the important habit of being in the right place at the right time. His data for United during 2013-14 backs this up. He had the highest average of chances per game in the United squad – 4.2 – proof that his ability to find space in and around the danger zone should not be underestimated.
So considering the evidence above, what can we make of the Welbeck conundrum? It seems his goal-to-game ratio when playing up front is better than the common perception. It’s the number of chances he spurns which frustrates his manager, the fans, and quite probably himself too!
Welbeck is not the first ex-United player to have this problem. Andy Cole and Dimitar Berbatov are 2 players in recent memory to have had difficulties converting easy opportunities. But playing in the lone striker role for Arsenal, Welbeck will need to improve in this area quickly if he is to keep the support of the Gunners faithful. If he can add clinical finishing to a good all round game, Welbeck could turn out to be an Ian Wright for Arsenal, rather than a Francis Jeffers!