Hector Bellerin has received as much flak as any Arsenal player since the start of the Premier League season and, to an extent, deservedly so.
In the opening losses against Manchester City and Chelsea, he often looked a headless chicken. Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso had a Team of the Week performance against him, scoring the Blues’ winner in the 3-2 thriller from his side of the pitch. Interestingly, the Citizens’ goals in the 2-0 loss in London also came from his flank.
Unai Emery’s arrival was supposed to make him less of a liability at the back. “We’ve seen he wants us to be a team that, first of all, don’t concede goals,” said the defender himself in an interview with the Arsenal website. “I think that’s something that has always been important for his team, whether he was at PSG or Sevilla.” However, even in the 3-1 thrashing of West Ham United, he proved to be one, with the Irons’ solitary goal coming off Marko Arnautovic and Felipe Anderson working in tandem in his side of the pitch.
The Arsenal fan base have been calling for his demotion to the bench since a long time, but the 23-year-old proved at Emirates Stadium on Saturday afternoon why both Arsene Wenger and his successor have handed him the ‘untouchable’ status at the club. He did leave abundance of space behind for Manuel Pellegrini’s men to capitalize on, but what he did on the other end of the pitch, in the end, proved detrimental to Arsenal’s securing their crucial first win of the 2018-19 campaign.
He worked superbly with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who himself had a mixed performance, and Aaron Ramsey to create problems the Irons defense struggled to deal with. His cutbacks, in particular, often left Arthur Masuaku gasping for air. Furthermore, he, who’s often criticized for being poor at crosses and negatively affecting the game by passing sidewards, made the most successful crosses, set up Danny Welbeck’s goal and created the chance Nacho Monreal converted.
Interestingly, his defensive contribution, at least statistically, wasn’t poor, as he won the most aerial duels and made five clearances. An objective analysis of his performance, however, would suggest he was defensively underwhelming during the defensive phase.
The fact that he received little help from those who should have been aiding him in defense didn’t help matter greatly. Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi failed to counter opposition’s counter-attack especially when the Spaniard was in the attacking third looking for a pass from the midfield. His defensive side of the game saw a huge spike in quality when Arsenal’s only defensive midfielder Lucas Torreira came on.
The Uruguay international midfielder made crucial interceptions, killing counter-attacks that would have otherwise put pressure on the former Barcelona man. In the event that he constantly receives support from a defensive midfielder as he did in the later stages of the game, he could transform into a fantastic modern attacking full-back many expected him to become a couple of years ago.
For that to happen, the Arsenal manager shall snub pundits who’ve been suggesting soon-to-be 35-year-old Stephan Lichtsteiner should be an automatic starter to ensure the man who’s contracted to Arsenal until 2023 develops into the player he could be.
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