Arsenal boss Wenger lauds patience of Welbeck as he makes return
In the closing moments of a compelling FA Cup tie there were two hugely significant moments for Arsenal.
The first was Olivier Giroud's winner that denied Preston the replay their skill, commitment and early goal had deserved. Following Arsenal's dramatic comeback from three goals down at Bournemouth, it was the second, successive match in which the French striker had scored a decisive late goal. Giroud, who had to wait until Boxing Day for his first league start, has now scored in four straight games.
However, perhaps of longer-term importance was the drive that Danny Welbeck, brought on as a late substitute, saw fizz over the bar in stoppage time. It was the 26-year-old's first shot in anger for eight months since sustaining a serious knee injury at Manchester City.
They were, as his manager Arsene Wenger said, months of 'desperation' for the England striker. "He went from certainly desperation because the setback he had was absolutely atrocious," he said.
"The patience you need when you are that age was terrible - and to miss the European Championship on top of that. But he worked hard and it will certainly make him stronger what happened to him.
"But you have to go through it and it was a very difficult moment for him. I think he suffered a lot and I hope, touch wood, that he will now have a clean career."
Welbeck has seldom had the luxury of a clean career. He had briefly played for Preston on loan under Darren Ferguson but his time at Deepdale was cut short by knee problems.
Having knocked out his former club, Manchester United, in his first season at Arsenal, he missed the 2015 FA Cup final because of another injury.
Wenger recognised that loneliness was a factor in Welbeck's recovery especially as the first prediction - that he would be out for three to five months - proved wildly optimistic.
"We talked with him of course," he said. "When players are injured they are a little bit out of my sight. At a football club sometimes when a player has a long-term injury it is better that you get him out and away.
"A football club is built for people who are competitive so mentally it was difficult for him. Of course, we spoke to him a lot but when something like that happens to you, then you have to deal with it on your own."
Saturday night at Deepdale was the stage for the kind of tie that demonstrated the FA Cup still resonates and kept the competition's most successful manager of modern times in the hunt for a seventh trophy.
"What more do you want?" Wenger said of a tie in which his first goalscorer, Aaron Ramsey admitted Preston had taken Arsenal 'by surprise' and shown greater commitment in the first half.
"It was a great tie and I came here with a team of quality - 80 per cent of the players who played against Preston played against Bournemouth.
"I don't know why people don't have a positive opinion about it - it's more the press, I think. I would have been devastated to go out here.
"Somebody reminded me I have never gone out in the third round in 20 years and that is because I care about the competition."