When evaluating promising youngsters or expensive acquisitions, football observers are determined to make comparisons with past greats.
For a couple of decades, for example, every promising young Argentine attacker was ‘the new Maradona’ - and when one, Lionel Messi, finally rivalled Maradona’s greatness, Messi himself become the obvious comparison.
For Arsenal, one individual is frequently name-checked. Thierry Henry epitomised Arsene Wenger’s footballing philosophy - a speedy, versatile forward capable of scoring and creating. Wenger always emphasises collective cohesion rather than individualism, but Henry was a sublime all-rounder, and remains the definitive Wenger forward.
"Usually, Theo Walcott is considered Henry’s successor. Now Welbeck is ‘dat guy’, particularly after his superb Champions League hat-trick against Galatasaray"
Henry could score various types of goals, but everybody knows his trademark strike - he’d receive a pass in the inside-left channel, behind the opposition defence, and calmly despatch the ball with his instep, wide of the goalkeeper and inside the far post. His legendary goal on his return against Leeds in 2012 is an obvious example - whenever another Arsenal player scores a similar goal, everyone immediately thinks of Henry.
Usually, Theo Walcott is considered Henry’s successor. Now, Welbeck is ‘dat guy’, particularly in the wake of his superb Champions League hat-trick against Galatasaray. Welbeck’s three goals were all somewhat similar - he sprinted on to passes played beyond the opposition, and applied a cool, first-time finish with his right foot.
The opener was struck from the zone Henry preferred to occupy, that inside-left channel. Welbeck made a run from a central position, on the blindside of Galatasaray centre-back Felipe Melo, while Alexis Sanchez’s path was played in front of the defender. It was a classic slide-rule pass, and Welbeck stretched out his right leg to poke past Fernando Muslera.
Welbeck’s second originated from a wayward header from a Galatasaray defender, rather than a measured through ball, but his finish was even more composed than the first - and it was struck from an identical position. Welbeck controlled the ball with a clever header, outmuscled Melo, and ran around the ball slightly, allowing himself to stroke the ball with the inside of his foot into the far corner.
Welbeck’s hat-trick goal was scored from the inside-right channel, courtesy of an Oxlade-Chamberlain pass, and a dinked finish over the advancing goalkeeper - again, struck first-time. It was a cool, calm and composed hat-trick. Three neat, unfussy finishes. As a forward frequently criticised for not scoring enough, it was precisely what Welbeck required, especially in front of a packed Emirates Stadium.
“I’m delighted to get the goals,” Welbeck said after his first career hat-trick. “I’m playing up front, getting into [the positions for] goalscoring opportunities, and tonight it paid off.”
That was Welbeck’s second outstanding performance in an Arsenal shirt - the first came in the Premier League, away at Aston Villa. That occasion, however, it wasn’t necessarily Welbeck’s devastating finishing which impressed, but instead his brilliant combinations with Mesut Ozil.
Away at Villa Park, Ozil was Arsenal’s No 10, fielded directly behind Welbeck. The duo forged a brilliant relationship, because both worked the width of the pitch excellently. At Real Madrid, Ozil was renowned for his intelligent sprints towards the flanks, while Welbeck is superb at running the channels.
When Welbeck drifted left, Ozil was in close support. When Ozil moved right, Welbeck was in position for a through ball. Both are versatile players who nevertheless prefer playing in the middle, and their experience out wide makes them more unpredictable in central roles.
Arsenal demolished Villa in the space of four first-half minutes. Welbeck teed up Ozil for the opener, then the German returned the compliment for the second, before Aly Cisshoko’s own goal finished the game as a contest.
“They combined very well today...our plan was to play Mesut behind their midfield, and it worked,” said Wenger.
If Welbeck is in the Henry mould, Ozil was presumably playing the Dennis Bergkamp role. Welbeck remains more than 200 Arsenal strikes behind Henry, and no-one is seriously suggesting he’s deserving of such a grand comparison in terms of goalscoring output.
The point is much simpler - Welbeck’s style is reminiscent of the most prolific goalscorer in the club’s history, and therefore he’s perfectly suited to leading the line for Arsenal.
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