Thursday, 11 September 2014

Does Danny's Debut matter?

It took Henry 9 games. It took Bergkamp 6 games. Anelka was also a slow settler. But despite these faltering starts, all three went on to become important sources of goals for Arsenal. What was it that made them great? It certainly wasn’t their debut performance.

By Matthew Hurlow (follow him on twitter: @ArsenalZA)

We have a new striker at Arsenal now, “dat guy” Danny Welbeck. Of course, everyone would love for him to kick-start his Arsenal career by banging one or two (or three or four) in against his old Manchester rival. Some fans might even be angry with anything less than a goal, feeling that Wenger’s gamble on Danny-boy is really the last straw, pointing out that we probably should have signed a solid defensive midfielder instead. In that respect, it’s debut goal or bust for Welbeck.

But in a broader, more rational view of things, Danny’s debut performance shouldn’t matter. I’m sure a large section of the Arsenal faithful started to think of Henry as a flop after his eighth game without a goal, and look how wrong they turned out to be. In a game of so many variables, a goal on debut doesn’t guarantee future success, and a poor debut does not guarantee failure in the future. Heck, nothing is guaranteed. But – does that logic still apply?

I mean, if we’re honest with ourselves, a good striker should score as often as possible. With a wealth of options to assist Welbz, he should have no excuse. He will no longer have the “I’m being played on the wing” excuse. When Sanchez sends a delicious cross in from the right wing on Saturday, and Welbeck rises above Kompany, everyone will be expecting to see his header hit the back of the net. And it will. Unless Danny’s not all he’s cracked up to be. This is the fear of sceptical and sanguine fans alike.

In the modern game, a goal on debut is often a mark of a striker set for success. Diego Costa proved that he was not a “one-club-wonder” by scoring in his first three league games for Chelsea. Prolific scorers with lower-table teams (both of whom have been linked to Arsenal countless times), Wilfried Bony and Christian Benteke, scored on debut. Recently, the legendary, proven goal scorer Samuel Eto’o scored on his Everton debut. It looks like scoring on debut does indeed bode well for the future.

Enter Demba Ba and Mario Ballotelli...
Demba Ba, a solid performer and regular goal scorer for Hoffenheim, West Ham United and Newcastle United, scored on his Chelsea debut. Not once, but TWICE. His first game was a 5-1 rout of Southampton in the FA Cup. His next few games also yielded good returns. And then, out of nowhere, the fairy dust ran out, the magic stopped flowing through his boot, the goals dried up. Mario Ballotelli began his Man City career by coming on as a substitute to score an important Europa League goal, making him a fan favourite. Unfortunately, his overall form from then on was not quite as explosive as the fireworks in his bathroom. Eventually sold to AC Milan, he looked to have regained his panache, but his form soon turned sour there too. Just how far his star has fallen was evident in his dismal performance for Liverpool two weeks ago. Aha, scoring on debut is not always an indication of future success.

In my opinion, Danny Welbeck possesses a quality lacking in both Ba and Ballotelli. Work rate. The only reason why he put up with playing on the wing for so long at United was his intense commitment and work ethic. He has proved his ability as a work-horse for both United and England, sometimes playing as a false-nine for his country. And, even so, he did get two goals for England the other night, and Switzerland are not a bad side. So even if Welbeck’s goals don’t come at first, or they dry up after an early burst, or he scores and then (touch wood) gets injured immediately afterwards, his hunger and desire should see him through.

Finally, I’d like to compare Welbeck to the man I’d most like for him to emulate: Daniel Sturridge. A few months ago, I wrote an article for Arsenal Corner in which I said that Daniel Sturridge is the player I’d most like us to sign. I hadn’t even thought of Welbeck. Arsenal signing a player from a big rival? Preposterous! But it’s happened and now I believe that Danny Welbeck is actually a better fit. For one thing, he has many of the same qualities as Sturridge: pace, power, skill and finishing ability. Yes, finishing ability. He hasn’t scored as many goals as Welbeck, but if you watch the way he has taken the ones he has scored you can’t help but be impressed with the calmness, precision, and crispness of those shots. And although Sturridge trumps Ba and Ballotelli in terms of work rate, Welbeck trumps him in that department.

At the beginning of this piece I asked what it was that turned Henry, Bergkamp and Anelka from stuttering starters to scintillating scorers. Now I have the answer: the ability, the pace and most importantly, the hunger. Welbeck is hungrier than a bunch of adolescent boys (and much better looking too).

Score or miss, embarrass or dazzle, Welbeck will be a success for Arsenal.

By Matthew Hurlow (@ArsenalZA)