Arsene Wenger hailed Danny Welbeck as “exceptional” after the Arsenal forward scored a late winner at the Emirates Stadium.
Charlie Austin came off the bench to equalise for Saints with his first touch after Shane Long’s earlier effort had been cancelled out by goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Welbeck.
But Welbeck was on hand to score a second of the afternoon and secure a 3-2 win for Arsenal – who have won six games in a row for the first time this season – as a fiery end to the game saw both sides finish with 10 men as Jack Stephens and Mohamed Elneny saw red.
Welbeck had not scored in the Premier League since September and had an injury lay-off earlier in the season.
That was on the back of two serious knee problems which curtailed his career – although this match-winning brace could prove the latest part of a recovery story which could end with a place in England’s World Cup squad.
“Danny Welbeck is getting sharper, because he has been out for a while,” said Wenger.
“He had every reason to feel sorry for himself and think this mountain is too big to climb. He had the right knee, the left knee, a year out both times, but he worked hard, which is unnoticed by everybody.
“People were questioning if he’d come back or not, that is the most difficult test for any sportsperson. I believe what he has done is exceptional.”
With Arsenal chasing Europa League glory and a return to Champions League football, Welbeck’s role could become greater over the remainder of the season as Henrikh Mkhitaryan faces a spell on the sidelines having limped out of Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final win over CSKA Moscow with a knee problem.
“He’s got knee ligament damage,” Wenger revealed after the game.
“He will not be available for Thursday (v CSKA) and not for Newcastle and certainly not for the week after, I think we play West Ham.
“I think he will miss these games for sure, but he could still play at the end of the season.”