In nearly five years as an Arsenal player, Danny Welbeck has made 88 appearances. That pales in comparison, however, to the number of games he has missed – 112. Indeed, Welbeck is halfway to an Arsenal testimonial and yet it feels like his career there is still to get truly started.
An ankle injury suffered in November, in a Europa League game away to Sporting Lisbon, seemed to have effectively ended his time at the Emirates Stadium.
Speculation was already swirling about a potential exit in January, with Crystal Palace and Spurs both linked, but while injury quelled those suggestions it only heightened the likelihood that the forward would leave as a free agent at the end of the season.
That assumption held firm until last week when it emerged that Unai Emery could be talked into handing Welbeck a contract extension. The 28-year-old won’t play again before the end of the season, but the Arsenal boss, reportedly, sees enough in the England international to suggest he’s worth keeping around, at least for a little while longer.
He’s right to think that way. Welbeck offers Arsenal something different in the final third. While the Gunners boast two natural goalscorers in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, Welbeck gives them an option as a foil.
Just look at the way Sir Alex Ferguson used Welbeck with Robin Van Persie in his final season in charge at Manchester United. Emery could deploy Welbeck in a similar way.
It’s true that Welbeck, even after all these years, remains one of the most frustrating figures in the Premier League, with his lack of finishing instinct preventing him from becoming a true frontman in the traditional sense.
However, his identity as a forward has long been misinterpreted. Emery, however, seems to have a grasp on it.
Welbeck is a space creator. He makes runs that most other strikers don’t, occupying opposition defenders with his movement. He has never been played alongside a ‘False Nine,’ but the England international would be perfect for such a system.
He gives Arsenal a certain diversity in attack that they otherwise lack, particularly after the exit of Lucas Perez, a similar sort of player, last summer.
Of course, some will argue that The Gunners shouldn’t be wasting wages on such an injury prone player when their structure already restricts transfer market activity.
What would it say about the direction of the club if Welbeck, a peripheral figure who has missed more than half the season, is handed a new contract at the same time Aaron Ramsey, a key figure, is allowed to leave on a free?
If the numbers are right, though, Welbeck deserves a new deal. His recovery from injury is “progressing very well,” according to Emery and a full pre-season would give him a head start for the 2019/20 campaign. “He is working and starting to touch the ball and to work on the pitch,” the Spaniard explained this week.
“His progress with such a big injury is going very well. It’s difficult for him to play matches this season, but he is progressing very well and maybe the doctor will tell us he can come train with us in the last weeks of this season. After, his individual thing is to speak with the club [about his future].”
At 28, time is running out for Welbeck to truly fulfil his potential. He is, essentially, the same player now that he was when he first broke through at Man Utd close to a decade ago. That, however, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Signing Welbeck to a new contract might not be the marquee move Arsenal fans crave, but despite everything, despite his injury record, there would at least be some logic behind tying him down.