Danny Welbeck has admitted the carrot of scoring goals kept him sane during his 20 months battling two consecutive knee problems.
Arsenal’s England forward fired a brace for his first goals since April as the Gunners thumped sorry Southampton 5-0 at St Mary’s on Saturday.
Arsene Wenger’s men cruised into the FA Cup’s fifth round, with Theo Walcott also stealing a hat-trick on the south coast.
Welbeck claimed his first goals on his fourth appearance since a second bout of knee surgery inside two years, then admitted he had to keep dreaming of that moment during painstaking rehabilitation.
Asked if the hunger for goals kept him focused in recovery, Welbeck replied: “Yeah, definitely. I think because I had this experience before, coming back from an injury, I kind of knew what to expect even though it’s a tough time.
“It was obviously good to be back out on the pitch after such a long time out, it’s been a tough few months.”
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was left purring over Welbeck’s showing, with the 26-year-old chipping home smartly for the opener before sliding in a neat second.
Wenger admitted he had not expected Welbeck to be so sharp so soon, leaving the Gunners boss to consider the former Manchester United man ready for sterner challenges ahead.
“The end game is to be back out on the pitch and playing in the first team and I got that opportunity,” Welbeck told Arsenal’s official club website.
“I’m certainly looking forward to doing it many more times.”
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain tucked into a central midfield role with youngsters Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Ainsley Maitland-Niles for company.
England star Oxlade-Chamberlain laid on Welbeck’s second goal with a fine raking pass, then later paid tribute to his two young midfield colleagues.
Maitland-Niles especially impressed at the base of Arsenal’s midfield, the 19-year-old a constant outlet for team-mates.
“Obviously the midfielders were shuffled up a lot and we had a big responsibility,” Oxlade-Chamberlain told Arsenal’s official club website.
“Southampton are always strong in there so I thought the two young boys, Ainsley and Jeff, did really well beside me.
“We set the pace from the start and we controlled it at times. And when they controlled it in midfield, I thought we sat back, we were compact and we kept a good shape and we saw them out until half-time and then we pushed on from there. So I’m really happy with it.
“You get on the ball a lot and I was delighted to do that. The two boys next to me made it a lot easier tonight, they helped me out in there. When your partners are playing well it makes your life easier.”