Danny Welbeck’s career as a centre forward has been tarnished over recent seasons and his reputation as a player who can score you goals has taken something of a nosedive. This is probably the first thought that crossed minds of fantasy football managers when weighing up Welbeck for their Fantasy Premier League upon signing for Arsenal in a late £16M deal on Monday. The second thought was likely to have been about where he’ll actually get to play for the Gunners. In this article we’re going to try to answer both these questions.
Can Welbeck Score Goals?
Simple answer, yes he can. His overall career record from 5 seasons at Manchester United and one on loan at Sunderland is not great; he’s scored 29 goals from 87 starts and 44 substitute appearances. This is not prolific, and is particularly marred by United’s 2012/13 title winning season where he scored just 1 goal from 15 starts.
However (here it comes) the 2012/13 season was something of an anomaly for Danny – he was frequently played as a wide midfielder with defensive duties which is evident when you look at his average position in that season.
Using our expected goal model we’re able to accurately determine his shot conversion rate taking into account such things as the type of shot (header or foot), type of pass (through ball, cross, etc) as well as shot location.
Taking the 2011/12 and 2013/14 seasons where he was predominantly played as a forward his record speaks more of a player who can average 1 goal in 2 games. In these two season combined we’ve calculated his ‘expected goal’ total would have been 16 goals whereas he actually scored 18. This is nowhere near the conversion level that players like Sturridge, Suarez and Aguero can hit but it’s still shows Welbeck is a better than average player given decent service and is actually not too dissimilar to players like Wayne Rooney and Edin Dzeko.
2012/13 - Poor Service
Welbeck’s “blip season” can be directly seen in the quality and type of chances Welbeck was getting at Manchester United in 2012/13 compared to other seasons. Using our ‘Expected Goals’ model we can see that the average “chance quality” of Welbeck’s attempts on goal in 2012/13 was about 30% worse than in other years. He was having a higher percentage of headed attempts in 2012/13 (lower probability of a goal) and received a lot less throughballs (high probability attempts).
In summary, Welbeck’s goal scoring record received a nasty stain in 2012/13. He was still involved in the attack but asked to defend and playing out of position was not served up the kind of prime cuts that most forward players would receive. In the two seasons were he did feature more as a forward he scored perfectly well.
What To Expect At Arsenal?
We mentioned throughballs in an earlier paragraph specifically because Arsenal are throughballs kings. They attempted the second most throughballs of any team last season (behind Liverpool) and over double the tally of Manchester United. Welbeck is going to get great service at Arsenal, much better than he’s received at United in the last couple of seasons. His record at scoring from throughballs is very good too.
If Welbeck starts mostly out left we don’t think this actually matters a great deal. Arsenal’s left-most forward in recent seasons, whether it’s Podolski or Cazorla, is never one to stay out wide and is regularly asked to get in to the box and score goals. Indeed, with Welbeck’s playing style, you’d expect him to mirror more of a Podolski's faux-striker role in the side rather than that of the more creative Cazorla.
The perfect (and most likely) scenario for Welbeck would be for him to get the central striker role flanked by Sanchez on the left and then Walcott on the right once fit. If this was the case we’d expect Welbeck – based on his finishing stats and the quality chances Arsenal create – to pretty much match or exceed Olivier Giroud’s record last season. Giroud is another player whose finishing has been criticized but was actually much improved in the last 12 months. Let’s not forget the Frenchman was the 3rd highest scorer amongst forwards in FPL last season with 187 points. Plus, Welbeck's finishing stats from his two good years are better than Giroud's. Played centrally, and at just £6.9m in FPL, Welbeck represents an almost essential buy this season, at least for as long as Giroud remains injured.