Football

Time for Welbeck to fulfil his potential, says Richard Buxton

Arsenal's 'forgotten man' must build on Leicester winner

FIFTH ROUND

ARSENAL v HULL CITY

(Tonight, 8.35pm, Singtel TV Ch 109 - Eleven)

Arsenal's forgotten man has emerged from the shadows.

Stronger than before, Danny Welbeck threatens to make his long-awaited step to the next level.

Far too often, the one-time Manchester United wonder kid - now 25 - has flattered to deceive.

Ravel Morrison's infamous 2013 proclamation that his former teammate was "that guy" appears increasingly prophetic.

Welbeck has always been "that" guy - a player burgeoning with potential, but incapable of realising it and setting himself apart from the herd. At Old Trafford, he became marginalised behind a plethora of attacking talent.

Little has been different the second time around, at the Emirates Stadium.

Following his 2014 defection, Louis van Gaal dismissed Welbeck as far below the required standard set by his former United peers.

Adding insult to injury, the currently beleaguered Dutchman would go on to brand him an obstruction to new signing Radamel Falcao and James Wilson, another of the club's homegrown graduates.

Similar has been argued of his continued presence, when available, in Roy Hodgson's England squad as much as it has of a sporadic 17 months in the Gunners' front-line.

Arsene Wenger's £16 million ($32m) gamble appears to have backfired far more than an initial forecast of four goals from his first five appearances, had suggested.

CIRCUMSTANCE

But such has been the narrative of Welbeck's career, it has been largely been dictated by circumstance.

He broke into a United side that were, at that stage, still accustomed to lifting the English Premier League on a near-annual basis.

More often than not, he found himself vying with more illustrious and established teammates.

Challenging for a place in an attack dominated by Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov was stern enough without his mentor Sir Alex Ferguson deciding to throw both Carlos Tevez, and later, Robin van Persie into the mix.

Welbeck's Arsenal career has striking similarities with that life he left behind at United.

What was supposed to have been the perfect environment to further his career and take him to "the next level" has seen him playing second fiddle again, as Olivier Giroud remained at the fulcrum of Wenger's tactical thoughts.

Injuries have undeniably played their part. An innocuous six-day absence that was supposed to culminate in a comeback appearance in the FA Cup final evolved into a 10-month spell on the sidelines.

But, with Giroud struggling to find form, with just one goal from his last nine EPL outings, two training sessions were enough to convince Wenger to reintegrate Welbeck as a late substitute during last weekend's visit of Leicester City.

The heroics which stopped the runaway leaders in their tracks underlined his true capabilities, why he could not be held back for a long-awaited return in the FA Cup fifth round visit of Hull City tonight.

DEVASTATING

The England international has been capable of producing such devastating and decisive moments.

A penchant for playing in a more centralised role has been his greatest undoing.

His greatest strengths remain in bamboozling defenders from a wide berth with ease, thanks to an astute combination of guile and energetics.

Making a potential first start in over 10 months, when second-tier side Hull step out at the Emirates, Welbeck will be ill-afforded better opportunities to showcase his abilities.

It is now up to him to finally see it through.


By the number

4 Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez scored four goals in three matches against Hull last season, when the Gunners won 2-0 in the FA Cup third round, drew 2-2 at home and triumphed 3-1 away in the Premier League.

Losing 2014 FA Cup final might have meant Wenger exit

Arsene Wenger has revealed that he might have ended his Arsenal tenure had his side failed to beat Hull City in the 2014 FA Cup final.

The Gunners, who host Steve Bruce's side tonight, ended their nine-year trophy drought with a 3-2 win over Hull that year.

The north London club were overwhelming favourites to win the showpiece at Wembley, but found themselves two goals down inside eight minutes.

Santi Cazorla pulled one back for Arsenal before half-time, before Laurent Koscienly took the game to extra time, where Aaron Ramsey scored the winner.

"I don't know, honestly, I don't know," said Wenger (above), when asked if he would have lost his job if Arsenal had failed to win.

"It was up in the air and we had to give everything to win that final. If we had lost it, I don't know.

"It would have been a problem if we had not won. It would have been a massive disappointment for everyone, but we won."

Wenger, who signed a new three-year extension 13 days after the victory, added: "Usually, 
I respect my contracts and I fight for everything.

"I think as well to say to you that if 17 years at a club depend on one Cup final, it is better you don't go to the final."

TURNING POINT

Arsenal's comeback victory against Hull was seen as a turning point for Wenger's side.

They retained the Cup last year, with a 4-0 victory over Aston Villa in the final, and are just two points behind league leaders Leicester, as they bid to win their first Premier League title since 2004.

Which was probably why Wenger had blocked Mathieu Debuchy from joining close rivals Manchester United on loan.

United attempted to ease their defensive crisis by signing the Arsenal fullback on the final day of the January transfer window.

But Debuchy, who has fallen behind the impressive Hector Bellerin in the Gunners' pecking order, subsequently joined French Ligue 1 outfit Bordeaux on loan until the end of the season.

And the France international revealed last week that he was frustrated Wenger had denied him the chance to join Louis van Gaal's side.

"You loan players out to clubs who do not have the resources, but not to direct opponents," said Wenger.

"There was nothing shocking in that and it's true, I stand up for that. I was surprised. I can understand it but I found that logical to block the loan."

BARCA NEXT

Wenger's side will host Barcelona in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League clash on Wednesday morning (Singapore time), and the Frenchman is likely to rotate his squad for tonight.

Danny Welbeck, who scored the winner against Leicester last weekend, may start, while David Ospina will replace Petr Cech in goal and recent signing Mohamed Elneny is also likely to be in Wenger's starting 11.

Gabriel remains sidelined, but Laurent Koscielny could feature.

Wenger added: "The best way to prepare for Barcelona is to beat Hull tomorrow. The momentum is important and we have to show that, mentally, we are capable of winning by focusing on every 
single game." - PA Sport.

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