England managers don’t often come back from the kind of pressure under which Roy Hodgson found himself prior to the Euro 2016 qualifier against Switzerland. A dire World Cup and a win over Norway in midweek that was little better had murmurs of fan discontent become much louder, and a series of rows with the press meant the 67-year-old was starting to run out of friends.
Hodgson had long insisted that there were positive signs from his England team. To do so after a goalless draw with Costa Rica – the tiny Central American nation that punched above its weight at the World Cup while England collapsed under theirs – was generally greeted with disbelief. The emotions were arguably stronger after Wayne Rooney’s penalty dispatched Norway.
Defeat to Switzerland would have ratcheted up the pressure even further and Hodgson’s preparations were hindered by a long-term injury to Daniel Sturridge. England are distinctly lacking in forward options at the best of times so to lose the prolific Liverpool striker appeared a death knell for the Hodgson era.
Danny Welbeck was the man tasked to replace Sturridge and the new Arsenal signing wasn’t exactly greeted with universal warmth. Before Monday night – and the two goals against Switzerland that arguably saved Hodgson’s job – Welbeck had eight goals in 27 England games, a fair record of roughly one-in-three. At club level, for Manchester United, it was 29 in 142 games – more like one-in-five and not nearly so impressive.
But Arsene Wenger evidently saw enough in the 23-year-old to swoop on transfer deadline day, and his vision was justified in Basel. Statistics from EuroFantasyLeague.com
Welbeck achieved as much when rarely playing through the middle, as a genuine striker. His pace, agility and movement have often seen him shunted wide, where it is much harder to influence the game as a goal scorer. It’s the same problem from which Sturridge suffered at Chelsea and his Liverpool and England career shows the virtue of deploying a player in their best position. Welbeck gave an indication against Switzerland that he is a similar case.
Yet to make a Premier League start this season, if, when he does, Welbeck is used through the middle, he’ll provide an alternative to Olivier Giroud, the only Arsenal striker of last season to reach double figures. Welbeck can also ease the goal burden on Aaron Ramsey, take some pressure from Alexis Sanchez as he settles in to England and ease the strain on Theo Walcott as he recovers from a serious injury.
Welbeck’s signing then covers a lot of bases for Arsenal and Wenger, while the decision to play him through the middle, either by choice or necessity, has given Hodgson new life in the England hot seat.
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