LONDON (AP) — Danny Welbeck scored his first career hat trick as Arsenal overpowered Galatasaray 4-1 in the Champions League on Wednesday and survived with 10 men for the last half-hour after goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was sent off.
Welbeck, who was allowed to leave Manchester United last month after his striking qualities were questioned by manager Louis Van Gaal, demonstrated just how he can thrive as a center forward.thanked the manager for showing a "lot of faith in me."
"I am delighted to repay him tonight," Welbeck said. "He has allowed me to play up front in my preferred position."
Against a weak defense, Welbeck side-footed in the opener in the 22nd minute, swept in a second on the half-hour and, after Alexis Sanchez also netted, completed his hat trick at the start of the second half.
"He had the instinct of a goal-scorer," Wenger said. "He was aggressive and made great runs."
Arsenal was cruising in the Group D encounter until Szczesny rushed off his line and brought down Burak Yilmaz, who then converted the resulting penalty. Arsenal's latest moment of ill-discipline — this was the London club's fifth red card in seven European matches — enabled Galatasaray to provide a late threat.
But Welbeck's spirited performance ensured Arsenal had already done enough to collect its first points in Group D after losing 2-0 at Borussia Dortmund last month. Dortmund secured back-to-back victories by winning 3-0 at Anderlecht on Wednesday.
The coveted European club title is the one major trophy to elude Wenger, even though this is Arsenal's 17th successive season in the Champions League.
Few nights have been as comfortable as this for Arsenal in the competition. Welbeck's first goal at home since joining for 16 million pounds (then $27 million) came after combining with another summer transfer window signing, Sanchez. The Chile international burst in from the left and slipped a ball through for Welbeck to sidefoot through goalkeeper Fernando Muslera's legs.
Although Sanchez scuffed a shot wide after being teed up by Mesut Ozil, Welbeck's finishing was exquisite. The England striker raced onto a deep ball, headed it down and controlled it before clipping the shot into the bottom corner of the net.
As Arsenal was showcasing its flair, Galatasaray could only offer flares in response — from its fans. The match was halted briefly to allow the red smoke to clear the pitch.
Arsenal was as rampant at the start of the second half, and a flowing move led to Welbeck completing his hat trick in the 52nd minute. Welbeck lifted the ball over Muslera after latching onto Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's through ball, and then lapped up the adulation of the home fans.
"Technically he is very sound — that was a surprise," Wenger said of Welbeck. "I didn't know he was so quick, honestly, but he can be electric ... and it's good to see that slowly he gains in confidence and finishes well."
After Szczesny was sent off, Sanchez had to make way for David Ospina to come off the bench. And the goalkeeper's first action was to pick the ball out of the net after Yilmaz scored from the penalty spot.
But Ospina did keep out a late header from Burak with an diving save, blocked Hamit Altintop's effort and pushed away Wesley Sneijder's low long-rang shot.
"We should have been more aggressive," Galatasaray coach Cesar Prandelli said through a translator. "The Champions League is a big competition and we should have come ready, but we have made a lot of mistakes. It is important we learn from the mistakes and correct them."
Arsenal could have completed the night with a fifth from a stoppage-time counterattack. But after Santi Cazorla chipped the ball over Muslera, Semih Kaya produced a goal-line clearance. On another night it might have proved costly, but Welbeck had already ensured it wouldn't.