The unfortunate injury to Mathieu Debuchy at the start of the year was an early but pretty foreseeable blow to our season’s title ambitions. In his absence, Wenger turned to youth to dig us out of this self-dug hole and since then we have seen the emergence of the much talked about, Hector Bellerin. Pinched from the Barcelona youth academy in 2011, Bellerin has been transformed from an effective right winger to a marauding fullback. His roadrunner like speed has left attackers and defenders trailing in his dust as they try to keep up with Arsenal’s all-time fastest. His debut this season was a baptism of fire; thrown in at the deep end, the youngster was keen to impress. His enthusiasm manifested itself in a desire to win the ball back at every opportunity by attempting to steal the ball before the attacker could control it, ala Laurient Koscielny. However, by continually attempting to win the ball swiftly, attackers quickly became aware of his routine and were shrewd enough to turn the young Spaniard.
Bellerin struggled for the first few games but alongside the experienced head of Mertesacker, he soon learned to vary his point of attack. His pace meant that if there was a reasonable chance of winning the ball, he could take it; but if not, he could give himself a yard and push the attacker outside, knowing that a heavy touch would see his pace come out on top. Since learning this invaluable lesson, Bellerin has become paramount to our structured game plan, both defensively and offensively.
Defensively, Bellerin acts in two capacities: Firstly, he patrols the right flank picking up his opposite number, as is only natural for a right back. He seems to be relatively attune to his defensive responsibilities, content to man mark and contest headers. However, owing to the impetuousness of youth, Bellerin often goes in for challenges or commits fouls unnecessarily; this recklessness has been reflected in the needless bookings he’s picked up this season but given this is his maiden season in the first team, allowances have been made. In addition, his attributes going forward help to pave over such inadequacies but make no mistake, this is something Wenger and the coaching staff will be keen to eradicate from the Spaniard’s game. His second duty is to act as Mertesacker’s pace. We all know the German is as slow as a tricycle with a broken wheel but since Bellerin’s first team promotion, we’ve seen Mertesacker protected from his kryptonite-like weakness. (This is conveniently ignoring the brain freeze Mertesacker suffered against Monaco, when he foolishly decided to dive in past the half way line rather than instructing the young Spaniard to act as the aggressor.) Bellerin has found that his pace has helped to provide an irregular balance to the back four. The defence is segregated with instinct and brains, both Bellerin and Koscielny act on their instinct and Monreal and Mertesacker rely on their knowledge of the game to cover when necessary. Last Monday’s goal against Swansea demonstrated Koscielny’s instinct to move towards the ball when he may have been better advised to stick to Gomis, who he had a clear sight of. For the time being, Bellerin’s instincts are, for the most part, correct but it would be foolish not to amend Bellerin’s reading of the game to make him more defensively astute; the return of Debuchy, a solid and dependable right back, may aid him in this regard.
However, it is the attacking side of Bellerin’s game that has delighted fans the most. His touch and speed make him the perfect outlet on the right hand flank and his delivery is fairly impressive as well. Being a product of the Barcelona youth academy, it is no surprise how assured he is with the ball at his feet; he often commits players with his direct running and exudes a confidence, often unbeknownst to fullbacks, when it comes to striking the ball - his daisy cutter effort against Villa being a prime example. His technical ability allied with his blistering pace makes him the ideal right back for an attack minded team. He may not have the brawn of Ivanovic or the defensive discipline of Azpilicueta, the two best fullbacks in the league in my opinion; but he is brilliant in his own right, and at 20 years of age will continue to improve.
So who does Wenger favour in the battle for right back? Debuchy, the French international is in training and has played, an admittedly underwhelming, 120 minutes at Wembley since his return from injury. He was bought to succeed his French compatriot Sagna, but so far has spent more time in the sick bay than on the field, (On a bright note, Diaby finally has someone to play battleships with – “Vous coulé mon cuirassé!”). So far it seems Arsene has opted to keep faith with the young Spaniard due to both players’ respective performances. But it would seem illogical not to start your first choice right back when fit and ready. Wenger has changed the dynamic of the team in recent months, Coquelin has become a shield in front of the back four, using his stamina and awareness to fill in for either fullback as they bomb forward; this is something Arteta was never capable of due to his age and mobility. Additionally, Wenger is currently shoehorning Ramsey into the right midfield berth in order to keep key players in their favoured positions. I guess it speaks volumes about the importance of Cazorla, Ozil and Coquelin, that our ‘player of the season’ last year has had to be moved to right midfield to accommodate the trio. But in doing so, we have a right midfielder whose natural inclination is to come inside, break for the box and help out in the centre of the pitch; all of which is made feasible by the unrelenting oomph of the energetic and irrepressible Bellerin. If Debuchy was playing in tandem with Ramsey, the right hand side of the pitch, whilst being solid, would be incredibly laborious; there would be plenty of industry but little flair and endeavour to beat a man. A more traditional winger, in the mould of Oxlade Chamberlain or Theo Walcott, would provide width and a more natural attacking disposition thus facilitating the presence of a more traditional and solid fullback. Whilst the presence of Debuchy might improve the stability of the team, do we really want the reliable, steadfast Frenchman to supersede the effervescent Spaniard?
‘Til next time,