Thoughts On Welbeck And The Transfer Window

When I was watching the England team at the World Cup, the biggest question in my mind was, “Why is Welbeck starting for this team?”

Sure, he’s a quick player, and Hodgson was clearly quite gung-ho about pace, but the then United man has hardly offered anything beyond work rate on the flank throughout his career. There were better players for the central striker role and it was hard to see him fit in anywhere other than the bench. The youngster might have had more of an impact as a late sub if he’d played around the goal and the penalty box.

That is not the same thing as saying Welbeck is not good enough or an outright bad player. He is very talented, just also somewhat limited. Just like Giroud, or Sanogo, or Chicharito, or Remy, or Bony, or most of the other forwards currently playing in the top leagues. I think he’s good enough to play in the Premier League but not sure if he’s good enough to lead the line for a team that wants to win it. At least not yet.

The hard fact is that there are very few complete players, and the proportion is even smaller when it comes to strikers because it’s a very tough job demanding exceptional technique and timing along with other qualities.

Most players have a unique mix of traits that makes them very useful in certain situations, while their weaknesses can make them look like absolute chumps in other instances. A lot of transfers fail because people are not able to assess how an individual’s qualities will improve or worsen once the context in which he is playing is changed.

Welbeck has obviously not been a success at United despite being one of the hot prospects in his younger days. 2011-12 was a good season for him in terms of playing time and goals but Ferguson went ahead and bought Van Persie instead of relying on the home grown talent to develop and deliver. The difference was clear and decisive. The Dutchman won them the league. The Englishman would not have.

I have some sympathy with Welbeck because his path has always been blocked by some genuinely top class players. And he didn’t get to play in his favoured position. I like the fact that he’s willing to move from his boyhood club in search of regular playing time. At Arsenal, particularly with Giroud injured, Danny should not face either of these problems.

Welbeck does not have the decisive level needed to star in a central striking role for a team that wants to win the major trophies. Nevertheless, he has age on his side and the raw material is there. Some of his physical attributes like pace, height, and power are very useful. These are, however, secondary qualities. You will, for example, be able to find a lot of people who are as tall, and strong, and fast as Thierry Henry. Even when given the exact same training, most of those people will not become lethal strikers like the Frenchman.

In that sense, this is a good test for both the player and his new manager. Can Wenger guide him to that elusive decisive level? Can the player build on his traits and use his hunger to hit heights he’s not even come close to before?

Technique is harder to develop after a certain age. But he’s already way ahead of Sanogo on that front and should be able to do better by playing centrally on a consistent basis. It remains an area of improvement but there is hope. The biggest question is whether he can develop the game intelligence and instinct that the top strikers have. This is harder to learn and can be a very innate thing. He needs to go up a couple of notches to really get close to the best strikers around the world.

Space is at a premium in and around the opposition goal. The best players have to be aware of where it exists at a given moment (changes all the time), need the ability to manoeuvre space (simple example is going to back post and then darting forward), must know where the goalposts are even when playing with back to goal or making horizontal/diagonal runs, should possess the ability to read the defender’s qualities and identify his weaknesses that they can exploit, and must make the right decisions on a consistent basis.

Any guy scoring goals in the Premier League has these qualities to some degree. You can see Welbeck’s instincts from the runs he makes, the way he adapts his body shape to get shots off, the little dinks over the keeper, and so on. The very best have an extraordinary level of consistency and they can repeat the output against different types of teams and in varying conditions. These are players who can produce a decisive moment out of nothing. Can Wenger take Welbeck to a level where he is ready for all challenges? We’ll have to watch and find out.

I understand if this article leaves you a little confused about my opinion of this deal. I don’t see this a great acquisition or as a panic buy. It seems like an opportunity arose and Wenger has taken it. There is no guarantee of success but the probability of meaningful short term impact and long term development into a top class player is high enough to take the associated risk. Wenger would most probably have preferred someone like Falcao or Reus, as would we. It’s natural to feel a little underwhelmed because of that. Just don’t get bogged down.

There are very real and exciting possibilities based on how things work out. I think Welbeck will be a threat from a lot of those runs behind the defence, which Giroud rarely makes and Sanogo doesn’t capitalize on. He will also gel well with other speed merchants in the side.

It’s not hard to imagine Walcott or Chamberlain bursting past the defence on the right with Danny taking up intelligent positions in front of goal. It could be a very fruitful attacking avenue for the Gunners if he can work on clever movement and develop on the odd unorthodox but instinctive finish that he’s shown to go with simpler conversions.

It may take a while to click but he also possesses the ability to play delectable combinations in and around the penalty box. Sanchez thrived on those at Barca and with Chile. Watch out for the one-twos between these two. I can also visualize him dropping into a hole just in front of the defence before sliding a ball through with one touch for a player like Oxlade-Chamberlain, or Walcott, or even Debuchy to run onto. The speed at which such understanding develops will determine how effective the youngster is. Giroud can be a good role model for this, at least as far as picking up ideas is concerned.

Finishing off gilt-edged opportunities has been a problem for the Gunners in the last two seasons. The England international should do better than the two Frenchmen in converting those chances even though it isn’t one of his big strengths. It could lift the whole team and give the midfielders greater creative desire. There should be 15 League goals for him at the end of the year if he can just take some of the chances that others keep missing far too often. That would be enough for a strong run at 4th place. Arsenal will need 25 or more decisive moments (goals plus assists) from the main striker for having a decent tilt at the title. At the moment I don’t see Welbeck performing at that level but he has the potential to develop into such a productive attacker.

Arsenal’s Transfer Window

The Gunners have added five players to the squad. I think all are quality additions in their own way. Sanchez is absolutely world class. Ospina should, hopefully, take over from Szczesny and give Arsenal a more secure presence in goal. Debuchy is a reasonably good replacement for Sagna. Chambers is an outstanding young talent. And Welbeck has the potential to be a very good striker.

It’s strange that so much good work in the transfer market still left me feeling dissatisfied, to put it mildly. And remember, this is from a guy who normally doesn’t grumble about transfers.

The general complaint, as far as I understand it, is linked to the lack of a “DM” and central defender. Given that I don’t really think any of the commonly linked players (Carvalho, Khedira, Schneiderlin, et. al.) would have improved Arsenal’s first team, my disappointment is not linked to a failure to sign these players.

A central defender was needed. Ideally, I’d have preferred someone who could start ahead of Mertesacker. Most fans would have been glad with a third choice player. It seems, based on various news reports, that Arsenal tried to get someone in but finally chose not to take the decisive step for one reason or another.

Depth is a major concern. I’ve always felt Wenger has gone with one or two players less than needed but there is also the issue that Arsenal perform the best when the first eleven is settled and playing together for a long period of time.

Some graphs/charts by Behnisch on twitter (highly recommend following him if you’re an Arsenal fan on twitter) are very interesting and informative.

Surprisingly, no one really uses all 25 players. It seems 20 very good players should be enough. I’ve read the line, “Only 6 players across 4 defensive positions” quite often. Most other teams have greater depth in these areas but title favourites Chelsea don’t seem to have too many options.

Terry, Cahill, Ivanovic, and Azpilicueta are their regular starters. Felipe Luiz is a big money signing but he could turn out to be the next Asier Del Horno. Kurt Zouma is a highly rated young player who has yet to prove himself at this level. And they have a few other youngsters. Can’t say they are too better off in terms of numbers/depth.

Manchester United, on the other hand, have quite a few players for defensive positions. But how many of those would you want at Arsenal? Can’t say they are comparable in terms of quality.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see more depth. Based on injuries, we might see a backline of Debuchy-Chambers-Monreal-Flamini in some game. Not a heart healthy recipe at all.

But I also understand why Arsenal haven’t done any business. There aren’t too many quality players who’d be happy to come to a club as depth boosters. This makes the transfer decision quite complicated. Do you burn a small but not insignificant chunk of your transfer money on an average player to fill one of the squad spots between 15-20 that is likely to see 30-40 percent utilization. Or do you trust the players you have and wait for quality to become available.

I don’t think Chambers will have too much trouble covering the minutes of Vermaelen and Jenkinson from last season.

Injuries are a valid concern. Then again, the new player could get injured too. Or completely fail to adapt. Here is an exercise you can do – make a list of all central defenders signed by the top 10 Premier League clubs in the last five years. See what percentage of those transfers has worked out.

As we’ve discussed repeatedly, defending is a team activity. Individuals matter and having quality players is important, but you can find short term solutions by adapting the way you play. Don’t lose the ball cheaply or give it away when the team shape is compromised and vast majority of difficult defensive actions won’t even be needed.

To me, that’s the area Arsenal have failed to address. There are far too many individuals who are losing the ball in the central third. Getting a player who could control the midfield and dictate play was vital. It’s understandable that guys like Kroos or Alonso were never realistic possibilities but there was one ex-player who could have made a big difference. Wenger has made a statement of sorts in choosing to let his son go to crosstown rivals. He is counting on his younger prospects to come good. Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain will really have to step up and deliver big performances in midfield to justify that decision.

The other problem areas are more related to coaching/training. Among the top 10/15 clubs across Europe, Arsenal are probably the weakest at pressing the opponents in their half on a consistent basis. Most other teams, even those who normally play defensive, counter-attacking football, have developed the ability to push up and create a period of intense pressure in the opposition half when the need arises. The Gunners couldn’t even keep Leicester pinned deep in their half when pushing for a win late in the game. It’s also the reason a lot of big teams have so much joy against Wenger’s side once they take the lead. The team simply isn’t able to raise the tempo and kick on to overdrive. Signing players is not going to change this.

A similar problem is with Arsenal’s inability to form a high-ish defensive block with the first line of defence around the centre of the pitch. Too many teams can bypass this line and get closer to Szczesny’s penalty box. As an extension, the number of transition opportunities that the Gunners can create from such areas is also very limited. Two of Liverpool’s three goals against Spurs came from transitions from the middle third. Most of the goals Arsenal conceded in big defeats last season also came about from such changes in possession. This is another issue that cannot be solved by transfers.

These issues are related from a training point of view. The players will continue to lose the ball cheaply in dangerous areas unless they train to keep it against intense, intelligent, and integrated pressing. I’ll try to cover more of this in the Reading the Game series.

Speaking of that series, we’re going to India for three weeks and that will probably affect the frequency of articles on the blog. It’s been over five years since we’ve gone back and this will be a very hectic trip. I’m not sure how much time I’ll get to write and publish. If everything goes to plan we should be back by the end of the month. You can keep track of the updates by subscribing through email or through twitter and facebook. All these options are available in the sidebar on the right.

20 Responses to Thoughts On Welbeck And The Transfer Window

  1. nafiu says:

    Wenger know d problem of arsenal that to win Troup this season CD, DM and a sharp striker was needed required

  2. yaw says:

    Great post! very informative. I’m glad someone is able to be rational about Arsenal for once and not look at buying new players as some sort of ‘magic pill’ to winning trophies. Wenger himself has said many times that the solutions are not always found externally. Someone’s you gotta work on improving what you already have. Its like a car. If your car is giving you problems and you’re torn between buying a new one and fixing the one you have, it might be more cost effective to fix some of the problems instead of buy a brand new car. The new car will be great for a while but if you’re not doing any maintenance, it’ll break down very soon and start to give you problems just like the old car. In a nutshell i’m saying that new players are not always the answer. Keep up the good work.

  3. m666 says:

    Intelligent post, read it again nafiu, you cannot buy chemistry, communication and collective understanding. Even BFG and Kosc are nowhere near effective without each other.

  4. SomeRandomGunner says:

    I am actually more optimistic about Welbeck than you seem to be. I do not really think an absolute goal scorer is a must for our team.

    We have Sanchez , Walcott , Ramsey who can all offer double digit goals. Sanchez has been more productive than say Falcao in La Liga if assists are included and penalties excluded. Walcott is one of the most effective players in the league.

    Our attack is actually tied to our defense, with Per we have to drop deeper this leaves attackers far away from the opposite goal. We often have the striker completely isolated from the team. Our striker needs to hold the ball up till other attackers can join them, this is where Giroud excels at.

    We also need some one to run of the shoulder of the defense , this is where Sanogo excels. I think welbeck is combination of best from Giroud and Sanago.

    Even if he is not so inventive in finishes also , he will bag close to 20 league goals if he is first choice.

    Giroud is excellent runner inside the box where the pace difference is not going to matter . This is the main reason he gets all the tap-ins . But he cannot exploit space in behind the defenders because he is slow.

    I believe Sanchez and Walcott will provide the extra 10 goals we needed last season.

    Walcott is returning from injury not sure how ready is going to be .

    I think all the fast players including Welbeck our defense should get better as they can get deeper without loosing too much of attacking ability.

  5. Gerry says:

    Another honest appraisal done to a tee. Nothing to beat intelligent insight, and you are at the top of the league in that respect.
    Top Man.
    Accepting what you say regards Welbeck, but, like Giro, his value to the team effort may be more than just his goal input? I felt, with better players around him, Giroud would have had that little extra space and time and score a lot more this season. Welbeck has to adapt to the role, and the team to him. Unfortunately, like with the WC, this interlull will leave little time to to prepare for the next important run of games?
    Regards the defensive options, I think Hayden will figure more this season. But he too needs time on the pitch to get him to a level where he can be consistently relied upon, both as DM or CB. My regular plug for Bellerin too, to get time while Debuchy is still on the pitch, rather than thrust him on as a replacement.
    That is one criticism I would make of AW, the failure to use subs for effective training. Understandable at times when only holding a slender lead. So greater goal input across the board will help?
    It should also be said that the additions to the team should mean more off the ball movement, than they have in the league games so far, will improve and make us a more dynamic threat.
    That as you say, is a training ground issue.

  6. Hunter says:

    The only reason. Welbeck failed to develop was Van Pesie. I don’t care how well Sturridge is playing right now if you bring in Messi to take his place he would be finished at that moment

    And you’re right about us being confused on where you stand on the matter it seems to me you’re sitting on the fence while leaning a bit on the negative side of Welbeck. I guess just in case he comes good right?

    Listen I love your blog probably more than any other but if I wanted to read about the strength and weakness of Danny .There are a thousand media outlets doing that. I mean I heard Paul Scholes saying a 23 year old guy would never score 20 plus goals or ever become world class just because he left your club

    Your opinions matter to me a lot not your analytical skills that would never be questioned..Personally I wanted him to be used as part payment when we sold Van Persie, if we had am sure by now either he would have been playing with Giroud upfront or Giroud’s first team position would be very uncertain. That’s how much I rate the lad.

  7. Shaun Allen says:

    This is a first class summary of where we stand after the transfer window. My thoughts are incredibly similar to yours. I think we are so close to being real challengers this season but the lack of a top quality CDMF is my main concern. Chambers is a real bonus and I’m sure he’s already surprised the Boss. My initial thoughts when we signed Danny was at the best mixed. After time to reflect I’m now quite excited about the potential impact he will give us alongside the other speed kings we have. He will also bring the best out of Ozil and our other highly skilful players allowing them to thread those little balls through. So this season I’m optimistic (but I always am).
    If we don’t get our normal bad run of injuries we can compete to the end and why not win it?

  8. jaya says:

    nice post… and have a nice trip to india.. the land of mahabrata..

  9. maathura says:

    Basically, the problem at Arsenal, as you say, is the way they play. The way they play is dependent on how they are taught to play. How they’re taught to play depends on the coach. So, replace the coach, and problem solved.

  10. filemissile says:

    Blog fantastic
    Thank you
    Good luck

  11. arsenal4Life says:

    you are definitely one of the best tactical writer among arsenal writers.

    👍 2 big thumbs-up so far!!👍

  12. V Gun says:

    Brilliant post Desi. And once again i must add.

    Have a enjoyable and safe journey and looking forward to your next installment.

  13. jnyc says:

    I think welbeck shows an excellent work rate, that along with same from sanchez is a plus.

    I think u are underselling debuchy big time. The man is equal to sagna defensively, and on the attacking side down the right, he is much, much better, and will contribute alot more. We got nothing from bacary going forward in the past few years.

    Big upgrade at rb.

  14. roni says:

    as always like your analysis.
    have a safe tour!.

  15. m666 says:

    Hey Maathura, should we get Big Sam in and play long ball? Park the bus? Win lose or draw, we play the Arsenal Way…You just don’t get it,…

  16. Ashis says:

    Enjoy ur trip.

  17. LOLpundit says:

    We have done well in this transfer window. Is it good enough to win the EPL ? Lets hope so.

  18. LOLpundit says:

    I think there is a wrong theory going on about the signing of Danny welbeck. According to me there is only one Boss at Arsenal.

  19. abachaghana says:

    honestly i am also with the opinion that the way we set our players up to press is one of the worse if not the worst among top 15 european clubs. The coach plays that cagy style because of how poorly we defend transitions when it hits us. But i will say the new way of safe goal protection without the ball is killing the beauty of our game. Infact, its obvious how hard it is to play the high pressing beautiful style and still keep the back safe from transitional attacks consistently but i do think Jorggen Klopp does that well given less quality players at his disposal as compared to what AW has.

  20. Getit Right says:

    Just left your Twitter page, would rather post this here than be hampered by the 140 xter limit. It has taken a while for me to get to where you are mentally about AFC and deciding not to bother writing and repeating the same old things.

    This club has stagnated under Wenger and I don’t think it will get better. Blaming Walcott, Ramsey or any of the other players is now pointless. How different was this from the Monaco game? or the 4-0 loss to United when Ferguson fielded 7 defenders? The only constant thing is Wenger. Another pointless title challenge, well aided by the refusal of our manager to recruit top players with the lame old excuse of “looking for exceptional talent”. With the mediocre bunch he has assembled at Arsenal, it’s very rich hearing that from him. Cutting my losses after today. Need to focus on my Ph.D, but thank you for the years of writing and analysis. It’s been a great couple of years supporting AFC, I think it’s better that I love and support them from a distance than watch Wenger plunge us into the depths like Clough did with Forrest. Cheers.

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