Will Danny Welbeck stick or twist at Arsenal?
Image: Ronnie Macdonald, CC BY 2.0.
Danny Welbeck will soon have a difficult decision to make. The England international must decide whether to stick it out at Arsenal or consider moving away next summer. Not only out of contract at the season's end, but he is also currently on the periphery under Unai Emery.
A contract extension hasn't been on the agenda. Given Arsenal have shown ruthlessness to let Jack Wilshere and more recently Aaron Ramsey leave on free transfers, it's clear the club won't allow sentiment to get in the way. Business will come first.
Welbeck is popular among Gunners supporters, but he hasn't lived up to expectations since arriving from Manchester United in 2014. Now no longer commanding a starting place for club or country, is it time he seeks greener pastures?
Competition for places in Arsenal's attack
Welbeck has racked up more minutes in the Europa League, 261, and EFL Cup, 166, than the Premier League this season. His 138 minutes of top-flight action highlights a diminished role under Emery, one as a back when the first-choice options need resting. He's been handed just one league start having found stiff competition standing in his way.
Welbeck was brought on as a late substitute in Saturday's 1-1 draw with Liverpool, almost creating a winning goal. He should receive a rare start in tonight's Europa League encounter against Sporting Lisbon. Whether such offerings are enough to keep him satisfied remains to be seen, however.
Emery has preferred Mesut Ozil, Alex Iwobi, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ramsey in the attacking midfield positions. Meanwhile, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have been favoured up top. Arsenal are spoilt for choice, meaning Welbeck has little chance of holding down a starting place for a prolonged period.
It’s worth noting Welbeck hasn’t managed to score more than five league goals in a season as a Gunner. He’s currently in his fifth campaign at the Emirates. In contrast, Aubameyang and Lacazette have netted 12 times between them since August.
It's easy to understand why Welbeck is struggling for game time.
Where could Welbeck end up?
Theo Walcott left Arsenal in January and moved to Everton, a top-half team which won’t challenge for Champions League spots. Jack Wilshere exited the Emirates and joined West Ham United, a mid-table side somewhat content with consolidation.
Welbeck is of similar ability to the aforementioned duo. His next move is likely to result in taking a step down, perhaps to a team like Leicester City. For the sake of the 27-year-old's fledgeling international career, playing regularly at club level is a must. He’s gone from being an England regular under Gareth Southgate to an unused substitute in the World Cup.
It’s unlikely Welbeck will leave in January, as the Gunners would be forced to find a replacement. Interest in him is sure to rise if no progress is made by then.
At present, Crystal Palace is reportedly the frontrunners. Should the move materialise, Welbeck would offer high levels of industry, excessive pace and tactical knowledge. He isn't prolific where it really matters, though - in front of goal.
Given his current plight, it can be argued Welbeck has declined during his time in North London. Walcott admitted to growing too comfortable over the long-term. Now another Gunner finds himself in a similar situation.
Walcott eventually opted to leave Arsenal. Will Welbeck follow suit?