One brief substitute appearance later, and the forward can justifiably claim to have breathed fresh life into the club’s Premier League title challenge.
Sidelined for the last nine months, the England forward was only included in Arsene Wenger’s squad after convincing the manager on Saturday he was fit enough to be involved.
Wenger’s decision proved well founded with Welbeck capping the final move of the match with the winning goal, a header that could ultimately prove decisive in this season’s title race.
Without Welbeck’s first league goal since December 2014, Arsenal would have remained five points adrift of Leicester. That may have been an improvement on their standing at half-time when they trailed to a Jamie Vardy penalty, but having been handed a clear advantage by the 54th minute dismissal of Leicester right-back Danny Simpson, anything less than victory would have been deflating.
Instead, Welbeck’s contribution ensured it was Arsenal who celebrated as though they had struck a telling blow in a four-way contest that shows no sign of unravelling.
“I decided to involve Danny yesterday,” said Wenger. “I hadn’t planned to include him but he did so well in training in the last two days he persuaded me. Now it looks like a great decision because Danny is a great player. Everybody is very happy for him because he has worked so hard. He has shown a great mentality.”
Wenger believes the rest of his players also showed their mental strength when it appeared as though Leicester would hold on after Theo Walcott’s 70th minute equaliser had cancelled out Vardy’s opener.
“It was down to mental desire,” added the manager. “We were unlucky to be down at half-time because I didn’t think it was a penalty and at that point we were eight points behind Leicester. Now it is two points. This win will strengthen our belief that we are in the fight. A loss today would have been massive. We would not have given up but the gap would have been three wins.”
Wenger’s relief was understandable, just as Leicester’s disappointment was to be expected. The key decision was Simpson’s dismissal. The right back was booked twice in five minutes, first for a 49th-minute challenge on Alexis Sanchez and then for holding the arm of Olivier Giroud.
“An international referee give two yellow cards for normal fouls and the match was full of fouls and very difficult fouls,” said Claudio Ranieri, the Leicester manager.
“We lost the chance to score again — for this reason I am very angry. 11 v 11, I can tell you know we can score a second goal.”
Ranieri’s frustration was understandable although Wenger insisted he had cause for complaint about the way the visitors took the lead. The Frenchman was convinced Mesut Ozil was fouled on the edge of the Leicester penalty area before Ranieri’s side broke up towards the other end and Vardy was clumsily brought down by Nacho Monreal.
The striker converted the spot-kick confidently and at that point, Arsenal title hopes were fading fast.
Once Simpson had gone, Arsenal assumed total control with Leicester defending deeper and offering little as an attacking force.
A neat knock-down by Olivier Giroud into the path of Walcott allowed the Arsenal substitute to score in the 70th minute and from that point on it was simply a case of whether the Leicester defence, backed by the excellent keeper Kasper Schmeichel, could continue to perform heroics.
The task proved beyond them once Marcin Wasilewski rashly fouled Calum Chambers. Ozil swung in the free-kick towards the near post and Welbeck’s glancing header drifted beyond Schmeichel.
“It was a pivotal moment today,” said Wenger.
“There’s a long way to go, we play a lot of big teams. But we had a bad spell where we couldn’t win for four games and have now won two on the bounce. We have come out of that bad spell and still have a good chance.”
Cech 7; Bellerin 7, Mertesacker 6, Koscileny 6 (Chambers 46, 7), Monreal 5; Coquelin 6 (Walcott 61, 7), Ramsey 6; Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Welbeck 83, 7), Ozil 9, Sanchez 7; Giroud 6.
Ospina, Flamini, Campbell, Elneny.
Schmeichel 8; Simpson 5, Morgan 6, Huth 7, Fuchs 6; Mahrez 7 (Wasilewski 58, 5), Drinkwater 7, Kante 9, Albrighton 7 (King 83, 6); Vardy 7, Okazaki 6 (Gray 61, 6)
Schwarzer, Ulloa, Dyer, Chilwell.
M Atkinson 5