Hector Bellerin is at a very important time in his career, one that 18 months ago didn’t seem possible; the Spaniard is fighting for relevance.
Since returning from injury towards the back end of last season, the former Barcelona youngster has quite noticeably lost a yard; Bellerin’s pace was his main outlet, his unique selling point, and the main reason behind many viewing him as the Premier League’s best right-back less than 76 top flight games ago.
Remember the shouts for Bellerin as best right back in the league
— #RF9 (@BaccaIieri) August 6, 2017
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – move to Chelsea pending – whets the appetite for Arsenal fans more in his newfound defensive-minded position – although the former Southampton man has certainly made his right-wing-back role seem more attacking than his time as a winger.
Against Leicester, Arsene Wenger was forced into an amalgamation of full-backs and midfielders to make-up Arsenal’s defensive five. However, when everyone is fit and available, the common consensus seems to be: Kolasinac, Monreal, Mustafi and Koscielny, with Bellerin and Oxlade-Chamberlain vying for that final starting berth at RWB.
We need to talk about how Ox has outperformed Bellerín in his own position then swapped sides and done the same.
— ™ (@TheFalseNein) August 11, 2017
Assuming Oxlade-Chamberlain does swap north for west London, Bellerin will have a clear run at establishing himself as Wenger’s main man on the right-hand side of his defence.
But if the 22-year-old is to rediscover the performances that had opposition left-backs fearful of coming past the halfway-line, then a tactical tweak to his game is needed.
One thing that the Spaniard has altered in his game – and this may seem too granular – but he has changed the way he receives a pass; the Spaniard’s instincts now, when receiving a pass – as Gooners hearts begin racing in anticipation at the prospect of an explosive charge down the flank – is to close off the angle down the wing.
Because Bellerin narrows down his own options, defenders are now more inclined to press the right-back – and as a player who is so one-footed (pace being his main outlet), there’s no real threat to the full-back’s inside channel.
Bellerin waiting for a slow-rolling ball like an untrained schoolchild
— JB™ (@gunnerpunner) August 11, 2017
Comparing this to when Bellerin emerged on the scene, two seasons ago, when the Spaniard received the ball he would always allow the ball to come across his body, therefore, ensuring that the right-wing opened up for him, and the opposing defender would be fearful of Bellerin accelerating past him and thus retreating.
Taking the ball across his body, of course, doesn’t mean the Arsenal defender is guaranteed to beat his man every time. However, the very movement opens up the game to Arsenal, and worst case, if the Spanish international is dispossessed, the ball will more than likely go out of play for an Arsenal throw-in.
— Héctor Bellerín (@HectorBellerin) August 11, 2017
Bellerin’s injury has, potentially, knocked him. However, when you couple that with being in the regularly hostile atmosphere that comes from being an Arsenal player, it makes sense that the exciting, creative players become less and less open to taking risks – something that made Bellerin the special player he was in his breakthrough season.
Want your Bellerin back, Gooners? Then stop moaning.