Danny Welbeck's form gives Arsenal a good kind of selection headache
There were plenty of positives to take from Arsenal's 3-0 win over Bournemouth last Saturday, although the victory over a side who have lost their first four games of the season has to be put in context. The quality of Arsenal's squad, and the fact it was a home game, means this is a fixture they should win nine times out of 10. Even if they were brittle after the demoralising defeat at Anfield, there was just too much attacking talent for Eddie Howe's side to keep out.
Before the game, eyebrows were raised at the selection of Danny Welbeck over Alexis Sanchez. It wasn't simply because of the reputation of the Chile international, but in both of Arsenal's previous games -- Liverpool and Stoke away -- the England forward had been somewhat wasteful in front of goal. Whether taking the early chance would have made too much difference in the 4-0 defeat is open to question but at the Bet365 stadium, a goal would certainly have changed the trajectory of a game that Arsenal more or less dominated from first whistle to last.
Fitness concerns over Sanchez ensured Welbeck got the nod against Bournemouth and his performance is one which will give Arsene Wenger something to think about. He scored twice, was unlucky not to bag a hat trick with a beautiful run and chip that went just wide and provided an assist for Alexandre Lacazette.
It was a game that summed up plenty about the 26-year-old, in particular his finishing. His first goal should have been a straightforward header, but it went in off his shoulder. The second was the kind of clinical finish you'd expect from a top-class striker, and herein lies the issue with Welbeck. It's not that he can't finish, or that he lacks the ability: it's about doing it consistently. In his first season at Arsenal, he scored a Champions League hat trick that showcased his talent in front of goal, but it's also fair to say that he can go from the sublime to the ridiculous, often lacking composure when presented with chances to score.
Some of that is down to confidence, and the two goals at the weekend will surely help in that regard, but some of it is down to the fact that Welbeck has spent so much of his Arsenal career sidelined by injury. He's had two major injuries that have seen him miss 10 months and eight months respectively, and there should be no doubt over how disruptive they've been for him. This summer was the first time Welbeck has had a real preseason since joining Arsenal in 2014, and the benefits of that are obvious, both from the point of view of fitness and availability. Many players require a run in the team to get properly match-fit and sharp in front of goal, and with three goals to his name already Welbeck is, at this early stage, the club's leading scorer.
Speaking after the Bournemouth game, the Arsenal manager said "I kept faith in him and overall I think he is getting stronger and stronger and more confident. Confidence plays a big part in his game, and I loved his finishing on his second goal."
It's why the performance, and what he produced against Bournemouth, will give Wenger a nice headache over the coming weeks. It's very difficult to drop a player after he's made such a telling contribution, regardless of the perceived quality of the opposition, and by his manager's own admission, keeping Welbeck's confidence high is important for the player.
However, there's also the need to reintegrate Alexis Sanchez back into the side. The Chile forward scored 30 goals last season and created 14 assists, making him the team's most important and productive attacking player by some distance. The issue is that he plays where Welbeck played, and although the former Man United man is versatile and can play across the front three, he's also got to contend with creator-in-chief Mesut Ozil and record signing Alexandre Lacazette. There would be room for all of them if Arsenal reverted to a back four, with Ozil dropping back into a central attacking midfield role, but it seems that Wenger is inclined to stick with the three-at-the-back system he implemented towards the end of last season.
With Chelsea looming on the horizon next weekend, Arsenal fans will be hoping for a razor-sharp Sanchez at Stamford Bridge. However, if Welbeck continues to perform and produce the way he did against Bournemouth, he'll continue to give his manager pause for thought, whether that's in terms of changes of personnel or a change of system.
Andrew Mangan is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @arseblog.