It is nearly four months since Danny Welbeck joined Arsenal from Manchester United, and on Thursday, Arsenal will begin the second half of the season when they play Southampton. A thigh injury could keep Welbeck away from the side, putting stress on Arsenal's attack, with Olivier Giroud also missing due to suspension. But with half the season gone, we can now begin to look at how Danny Welbeck has fitted into the Arsenal side.
Welbeck's goal scoring has been inconsistent: the eventual winner at Upton Park ended a goal drought of five matches, and he has only scored four goals in sixteen games in the Premier League, with Olivier Giroud scoring one more goal in half the games. Welbeck also scored a hat trick against Galatasaray in the Champions League. Welbeck's inconsistent goal scoring likely concerns Arsène Wenger, and it was interesting that in the absence of Giroud against West Ham, Welbeck continued playing on the left of the front three, with Alexis Sánchez playing a roaming striker role. Some have decried Welbeck's move to the left, but he, like all of Arsenal's wide forwards, has the freedom to play in the middle, and make diagonal runs. He's found space to score winners against West Brom and West Ham, both of which came from crosses. It's notable this season that, without Theo Walcott, Arsenal have scored fewer cutbacks than usual. While missing Walcott and his pace and runs in behind, and having Oxlade-Chamberlain play a different role, part of that is also down to Welbeck.
While inconsistent finishing is one issue for Welbeck, another part of his game that could be improved upon is decisiveness in the penalty box. Welbeck will often receive the ball just outside of the penalty box, and then will delay proceedings, as if he's trying to decide to shoot, drive past his marker, or pass. Often, that means Welbeck lays the ball off, and Arsenal have to start again. In comparison with Arsenal's other attacking players, Welbeck is indecisive: Aaron Ramsey, Alexis, Mesut Özil, Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and even Olivier Giroud all seem to have in mind what they want to do when they get the ball in and around the penalty box, and do it all quickly. It makes their attacking play more efficient, something which Arsène Wenger is keen to have in his sides. Yet it is something that can be improved: Olivier Giroud has become better at being decisive and thinking quickly (in the penalty box, at least), and Walcott and Ramsey were noticeably indecisive in their formative years at the club.
Furthermore, there is some evidence that Welbeck may be starting to grow. His last match, against West Ham, was quite possibly his most impressive for the club to date. Not only did Welbeck make more runs to get to crosses from the byline, but he also acted with decisiveness in the penalty box, bringing end product and purpose to his play outside the penalty box, which is generally good. With Arsenal defending deeply and playing on the counter attack, Welbeck's pace was a great asset, and twice he used it to make goalscoring chances. The first time was an outstanding run from inside his own half and left footed shot which was saved by Adrian. The second occasion was when he snuck ahead of Alex Song to intercept Stewart Downing's pass, and shot over the bar. It is the second occasion that perhaps sums up where Welbeck is right now: promising general play which shows good potential, but composure and finishing work needed.
Arsenal have been here before with attacking players, and Arsène Wenger has shown a knack for improving players composure in the final third. There is no reason to think that Welbeck can't improve his finishing; what he needs to do is continue his generally good play, but combine it with better decision-making in the penalty box. But while Arsenal may not see the total fruit of that work until next season, Welbeck is still an asset for this campaign: his versatility has meant Arsenal could cover injury to Theo Walcott, and a temporary positional switch for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and he's been dangerous in away matches, with three of Welbeck's four Premier League goals and both of his assists coming away from home. At this point, Olivier Giroud, being the better finisher, is first choice for home matches, and matches where Arsenal won't have as much space the defence. But if Arsenal can play on the counter attack, Welbeck is ideally suited for the role.