For Danny Welbeck, 2015 has gone from bad to worse to worst, and signs for the distant future look ominous.
Arsenal announced Thursday that Welbeck recently underwent knee surgery and is expected to miss “a period of months” of action. The news comes as a blow to those who hoped Welbeck would recover from an ailment, which has puzzled manager Arsene Wenger, and rival Olivier Giroud for playing time as Arsenal’s center forward.
“The striker has been working throughout the summer to recover from the injury sustained at the end of April,” Arsenal said in a statement. “It had been hoped he would avoid surgery, but after increasing his training workload, the injury to his cartilage did not respond as well as hoped, and the decision was taken last week for him to undergo surgery by a leading specialist in the field.”
The BBC reports Welbeck is expected to be out until Christmas. Regardless of the exact timeline, Welbeck’s latest setback makes 2015 a lost year for the Arsenal striker.
Welbeck’s Arsenal career started brightly following his £16 million ($24 million) transfer from Manchester United last summer, but Olivier Giroud’s return from long-term injury coincided with a thigh problem that sidelined Welbeck for all of January.
Giroud had cemented himself at center forward by the time Welbeck returned, forcing Wenger to deploy Welbeck as a winger, instead of his preferred position, during the start of the Gunners’ winning run. Welbeck’s April knee injury then ended his season prematurely.
Welbeck will be many steps behind his teammates and opponents when he finally returns, having missed preseason and the first half of 2015-16. Arsenal’s expected challenge for honors this season will raise the stakes for each game, making Wenger less likely to risk using Welbeck, as he plays his way back to full fitness and sharpness. Barring dramatic changes, Welbeck’s surgery effectively could ruin his entire 2015-16 season by limiting his opportunities to play in his favored position.
Arsenal infamously failed to sign a striker during the summer 2015 transfer window, leaving Giroud as the Gunners’ sole specialist in the position. Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez and Joel Campbell likely will deputize for Giroud. None of the three are considered front-line strikers, but any of them might hit a groove, start scoring goals and push Welbeck further down the pecking order in the coming months.
This scenario threatens Welbeck’s long-term future at Arsenal. If he couldn’t displace Giroud when he and the Frenchman are healthy, as Wenger’s choices in February, March and April 2015 suggest, there’s no reason to believe he’ll do so at the start of next season.
Wenger is notoriously cautious in the transfer market, but he wouldn’t dare allow another two transfer windows to pass without signing another striker (would he?).
Welbeck faces the prospect of starting the 2016-17 season as Arsenal’s third-choice center forward. He left Manchester United in search of more games at striker, but injuries and rival strikers have pushed him into a similar cage at Arsenal.
Welbeck will be 25 when he recovers from injury, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll want to fight his way up the pecking order at a top club like Arsenal or join one with lesser ambitions in order to play more. After all, Welbeck also has an international career with England to think about. He could miss Euro 2016 if he fails to find his form this season. He undoubtedly would hate to suffer the same fate at the 2018 FIFA World Cup because of a lack of playing time.
Thumbnail photo via Twitter/@BBCSport