Brighton drop points in 2-2 draw but Welbeck is ageing like fine wine to Arsenal's regret
Former Arsenal striker Danny Welbeck has proven yet again that he's like fine wine and getting better with age.
And yesterday he did what foxes in the boxes are known for and do best.
A proven quality centre-forward who has not reaped the rewards his talent merited due to a combination of consistent injuries and bad luck, Welbeck made his mark after only two minutes against Southampton .
A specialist in runs in behind and running the channels, the 31-year-old lurked in the middle of the six-yard-area when he pounced on a lack of communication between Southampton goalkeeper Fraster Forster and Mohammed Salisu following a superbly laser-guided ball in from Marc Cucurella to put Brighton & Hove Albion 1-0 at the Amex.
Despite falling behind, Southampton started to pepper Brighton’s goal. But neither Shane Long on two occasions nor Tino Livramento or Che Adams, who gymnastically missed the ball completely, could cancel out the former Arsenal striker’s opener.
Both South Coast teams were playing with their handbrakes off throughout the 90 minutes and it was a joy to watch for both sets of supporters. Full of confidence despite recent defeats against Burnley and Man City respectively and with nothing really left to play for, there was only the pride of a top-ten finish at stake.
MOTM Welbeck had a hand in Brighton’s second goal too. He started the attack on the right before cutting inside Oriol Romeu and finding Leandro Trossard with a well-guided cross-field pass. But just when the Belgian altruistically wanted to return the favour by picking him out in the box after a good run forward, Salisu made a hash of taking it away from the 31-year-old and deflected it into his own net instead. The Saints', and in particular the Ghanaian's defensive horror show, was now complete.
But despite shipping twice courtesy of individual mistakes, Southampton had been playing well and putting a shift in. With a Jannick Vestergaard of years gone by instead of the hapless Salisu things would have looked very differently. And the Saints doubled their efforts even more after Livramento had to be stretchered off and given oxygen following a serious injury.
Ward-Prowse reduced the arrears with a spectacular free-kick in the fourth minute of added time in the first-half, the worst moment any team can concede as it often leads to a change of momentum afterwards. It was his 14th Premier League free-kick goal of his career and he is now only four away from equalling the greatest ever in set-pieces, Lord David Beckham.
But on 54 minutes Ward-Prowse, who is the best England has to offer from direct free-kicks, then pegged the Seagulls back on his own when he smashed a right-footer into the bottom corner following Romeu’s cutback on the edge of the box.
But despite his brace, it was the unheralded Welbeck who was named man of the match.
Let go by Unai Emery in the summer of 2019, Arsenal could still have benefitted from his qualities to this day. This season the 31-year-old is level with Alexandre Lacazette on four goals but having played four games less. He could have been Arsenal's Divock Origi, someone to come off the bench to rescue his teammates with glorious goals when the ball doesn't want to go in like in games against Southampton, Brighton or Crystal Palace lately.
And who knows what sort of career he could have had he remained injury-free. It's fair to say that the Manchester-born frontman, who played his last game for the Gunners in a Europa League clash against Sporting Lisbon in November 2018, had his dream of leading the line for a big English club season-in season-out ruined by a succession of horrific injuries.
Even this season, he's had to settle for long spells on the sidelines between October and December, which explains why he's only managed four goals in 21 Premier League appearances and only 10 overall for the Seagulls in two seasons.
But there's always that 'if' and 'but' when people talk about the injury riddled Englishman's career.
What if he had been fit? Welbeck offers a variety of skills such as attacking the space and scoring crucial goals. He's also good with his back to goal and at getting in between defenders. A very physical striker who is good at countering with pace, he can also take advantage of a half-chance to rattle the net, like he did in yesterday's stalemate. There's the saying that one should 'weigh' and not 'count' goals. The ex-Watford man has never been one to score goals for fun, but the ones he managed were often crucial ones. The ones he inflicted on Aston Villa, West Ham and Leicester last season epitomize just this.
Both Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger rated him highly in his younger days.
And there will always be a sense of regret about what could have been.
His knack for goals, killer instinct in the box, undoubted professionalism and positive aura could have taken him a long way. But fate had other ideas.
Welbeck has always been someone people praised one day and crucified the very next due to his inconsistency. But most of the criticism levelled at him has been unfounded. At Arsenal he suffered the worst injury setbacks at decisive moments and often played through pain with niggly injuries.
All things considered, the Brighton striker still has a lot to offer if he stays fit and who knows whether he won't nail down a place in Qatar for the upcoming World Cup? Calvert-Lewin and Patrick Bamford haven't had their most prolific seasons due to injuries, Marcus Rashford has struggled to make a convincing case for why Gareth Southgate should call him up while Ollie Watkins is very inconsistent.
Besides Harry Kane is never Harry Kane at the start of the season while there are big question marks around Marcus Rashford's Man United future after a dismal season.
Should the Mancunian journeyman get off to a dream start between August and November anything is possible, even if just for the role of utility player and guidance for the young stars in the first-ever World Cup in the Middle East.
If fit, he knows how to put a chance away.