It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Danny Welbeck’s arrival at Arsenal late in the summer transfer window of 2014 failed to set pulses racing.
He had been allowed to leave by Manchester United despite having been practically raised by the club, and manager Louis Van Gaal’s dismissive assessment of the then 23-year-old was acerbic: ‘he doesn’t score enough’.
With a modest 29 goals from 142 appearances for United and with a price tag of just £16million – even five years ago – it was a signing that garnered little more than polite applause among Arsenal fans.
And though the affable Mancunian would never transform into the prolific frontman many hoped he would be, his efforts at Arsenal and his value as a dependable squad player ultimately made his purchase a good one.
The memories of Danny that will endure longest among Gunners’ fans will be his knack for scoring important goals at key moments. Who can forget his Champions League hat-trick against Galatasaray, his FA Cup strike at Old Trafford to send Manchester United crashing out of the quarter final? Or his headed winner late on against Leicester City, a goal that, even if it ultimately proved futile, gave us all hope that the Premier League title might still be within our grasp.
There are plenty of players who have scored more goals than Danny, and plenty more who have played more games and provided more assists, but those players simply won’t be remembered as fondly or as prominently as the player referred to by all as ‘Dat Guy’.
Almost unique among modern footballers, Danny was as respected and admired by opposition fans as he was by Arsenal fans. He was a footballing good guy, he was humble, fair, and dedicated – he wasn’t a diver or a diva, he was uncomplicated, respectful and patient.
He understood his role as a support to the leading lights and he never complained. When he played, he did so to the best of his ability and with maximal effort.
However limited he was as a player, he made the most of skills to stretch defences, harry defenders and goalkeepers, and generally put in a shift at the top end of the field when needed.
Am I surprised he has been released by the club? A little. I think Danny, at 28, still has much to offer in a squad role and as able backup to our more prolific front two. He is a powerful runner, can work the channels well, and is also possessed of a certain subtlety that made him useful in the box as something of a backboard for the midfield runners.
His finishing was always his biggest weakness and, combined with his poor injury record, that probably swayed the decision against him when the discussions took place around the boardroom table.
While one more season would have been a good compromise in my estimation, perhaps the manager and his team thought now was the time to wipe the slate clean in favour of the Eddie Nketiahs and Bakayo Sakhos of this world.
I can see the logic in that and don’t necessarily dispute it but sometimes the timing of transitions require careful management because you don’t want to expose your youngsters to too much too soon.
Ultimately, though, I suspect there are no hard feelings from either side. Arsenal was a good move for Danny after what must have been a difficult departure from Manchester United and, while he never set the world on fire, nobody can say he didn’t give it his best in the red of Arsenal.
In all, he made 127 appearances across all competitions and scored 33 goals.
So, while this may be goodbye, it is at least a fond one. Thanks for the memories, Danny, and good luck with whatever you decide to do next.