There was a time, not so long ago, when Hector Bellerin blew into the Premier League as a breathe of fresh air. The Spaniard forced his way into the Arsenal first team as a teenager, becoming one of the Gunners’ most important players. There was even speculation that he could return to the club of his heritage, with Barcelona reportedly interested in taking Bellerin back to the Camp Nou.
That player, though, hasn’t been seen for a long time. Bellerin is now considered a weak link in the Arsenal first team, as demonstrated by his performance against Chelsea on Saturday. Maurizio Sarri knew to target the Spaniard, with Eden Hazard torturing Bellerin for as long as he was on the pitch.
At a time when new Arsenal manager Unai Emery is plotting a way forward, overhauling his team and overhauling the culture at the Emirates stadium, Bellerin is becoming a problem. While there have been signs of progress further up the field, the defence remains an issue for the Gunners and Bellerin is a significant part of that issue.
The Spaniard used to symbolise all that was good about Arsenal, even in the latter Arsene Wenger years when doubt started to cannibalise the mindset at the North London club. Here was a young player who was a product of both shrewd scouting and good coaching. Bellerin was a modern full produced in a modern way.
Bellerin wasn’t just an attacking threat, but adept at the defensive side of the game as well. He looked to be a player Arsenal could count upon for years and years to come. But somewhere along the line Bellerin lost his way. He didn’t just start to tread water in terms of his development, he regressed.
This is where the signing of Stephan Lichtsteiner could be the catalyst that Bellerin needs to save his Arsenal career. The addition of the veteran Swiss defender following his release from Juventus at the end of last season was a peculiar one, but there is no denying that he will be an influential figure in the dressing room and he will provide some competition at right back.
Of course, Lichtsteiner certainly isn’t a long term option for the Gunners. At 34, he is well into the twilight of his career and so it seems likely that he will only give Arsenal one or two seasons of service. But he is very probably a more reliable option at right back than Bellerin is right now.
Bellerin’s poor form over the past season or two isn’t reason enough for Arsenal to give up on the Spaniard. At 23 years old, Bellerin could still come good. He could still rediscover the form that made him one of the most exciting young players in the Premier League not so long ago. But this season will be an important one for him. There must be an upturn in form soon.
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