Why Danny Welbeck’s versatility could finally prove a blessing rather than a curse at Arsenal this season

Unai Emery has been impressed with the forward’s versatility and has challenged him to increase his productivity this season

Luke Brown
Saturday 11 August 2018 21:44
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Arsenal 2018/19 Premier League profile

Arsène Wenger often used to laud Danny Welbeck’s versatility and yet surely even he will have been surprised to learn where the forward has been deployed on the training field this week. “On Thursday Danny actually worked with us at left-back,” new manager Unai Emery enthused ahead of Arsenal’s opening game of the season. “And his performance was good!”

Not that this versatility has always particularly benefitted Welbeck. At both Arsenal and Manchester United, he has found himself shunted around from position to position, always struggling to hold down a regular first-team spot. Welbeck featured in 28 Premier League matches last season and yet came off the bench in 16 of those, dutifully filling in where he was required.

Such a sporadic role at The Emirates naturally led to much speculation he could be moved on this summer, with Emery arriving at the club determined to prune an exceptionally bloated squad. But despite discreet enquiries from south coast sides Bournemouth and Southampton, Welbeck was retained, with Emery insisting that his versatility is a positive for the team, while also challenging the 27-year-old to increase his productivity.

“Danny is one of our players who has a multi-position possibility, as a right winger, left winger and striker, and I like this spirit,” Emery commented ahead of Arsenal’s opening match of the 2018/19 campaign, against defending champions Manchester City.

“And for me it’s clear. On Thursday the transfer window closed and Welbeck will stay with us.

“I said to him when he arrived with us after the holidays that I want the best performance in his career from him. And he has to work for that, he has the possibility of playing as a left winger, right winger or striker. He has to get better with his quality and also his data this year, with more goals and more assists. And to work hard when we need quick pressing against the opposition.”

It’s certainly a bold bit of man management on Emery’s part, albeit a demand he has made of all of his players. The Spaniard wants career-best performances from the whole of his squad this season, as Arsenal attempt to reclaim their position in the top four. “I want to get better every single day in training and each match, and I want to transmit to the players the same idea,” was his quite reasonable explanation.

Encouragingly for Welbeck, Emery values fluidity in his front-line, with the capacity to transition rapidly from attack to defence. And although he rarely deviated from his Hollywood front three of Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappé at Paris Saint-Germain, he appeared to suggest he would be more open to experimentation at his new club.

“I want strikers in my team who have the possibilities to go for goal, I want to give them more options to attack,” he said. “It’s about the mix, when you have a defensive or attacking moment, and I want every player to improve in this way. My main thing is to start the Premier League, the cup, the Europa League and then my objective is to improve each player with their qualities and our work with them.”

Even Arsenal’s notoriously demanding set of supporters will surely afford Emery some slack in his first competitive game in charge of the club, especially considering how easily Manchester City won at The Emirates last season. And yet Emery is fully aware that grace period will not be an extended one. He arrives in north London with an outstanding record of winning silverware – picking up trophies in each of his last five seasons – with similar success expected at Arsenal.

Danny Welbeck will get his chance to impress this season

But Emery is not the only serial winner to have arrived at the club this season, with summer signing Stephan Lichtsteiner arriving from Juventus with a particularly well-stocked trophy cabinet. The 34-year-old has been signed to provide competition for Héctor Bellerín at right-back, while also offering a wealth of experience. And Emery hinted at the leadership role Lichtsteiner is already occupying.

“On Friday morning we were talking with the team and it was the moment for Lichsteiner to speak,” Emery added. “Maybe he is the player with us who has won the most titles.

“After all, we start with a new way. We want to continue winning, remember your titles from a big career, but this is a new way to try to win more. In football you live for your present and your future.”

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