IN DEFENCE OF BELLERIN by Joe Allysons
Hey guys, we had a good end to the season, and the new one isn’t that far away. Good times.
I’ll jump straight in with my topic for today.
I’ve gotten into a few debates in real life with some Arsenal fans over Hector Bellerin, and my question has always been, what is the problem with him? Why is every fan and their uncle out with pitchforks and torches against him? Why is everyone making it seem like they would do better at RB than him?
To be honest, it’s the same disappointing answer. He can’t cross, he’s not defensively solid, he’s not comfortable on the ball.
Now we’ll go step by step on all of them. Let’s start from defending, considering he’s a defender predominantly. To be honest, I might agree that he does look defensively shaky many times. Question is, who looks more solid than him? Which arsenal right back isn’t getting turned inside out by opposition attackers that particularly choose to attack our right side? From memory, Everyone who we claim is better than him has actually done something worse than him.
Let’s start with AMN. Just to be clear, I actually rate Niles, but not as our starting RB. I actually think he, if willing, would be a great option to have as a backup right back. However, when we don’t have the ball, many times, you’ll find that Niles ends up in a position where he’s chasing the attacker. He very rarely is in front of his attacker, and I don’t know about you, but every time I see a defender chasing, my first assumption is he was either out of position, or he lost concentration.
Then comes Cedric Soares. To be honest, I wanted to start with a bit of a positive as I did with Niles, but this guy really isn’t that great at defending. Unlike Niles, who at least appears to try, many a time, I’ve seen Cedric lose a challenge and then just stand there like it’s not his responsibility to try and keep the numbers up. I’m struggling to remember a defensive action from him that got me off my chair and all I can remember is his part in Mane’s goal. I can’t think of any of our other fullbacks that would have behaved like he did.
Calum Chambers. Chambers gives us height at right back. He’s a really great tackler and is pretty calm. Thing though, is he’s quite slow and static for a right back and has occasionally been exposed by tricky wide attackers. I’d say he’s better as a centre back.
Then comes Bellerin himself. The most common defensive movement I can remember when I think of Bellerin, is how he will always drift towards his own goal to ensure the attacking player is always in front of him. While this doesn’t put an immediate stop to an attack, it slows down the attacker enough for the defence to reorganise, while also giving him room to study the move and choose whether to tackle or stand his ground. It does put him at a risk of being beaten on the dribble since it’s a game of wits with the attacker, but then, watching our games, I see him win a lot of his challenges in less dangerous areas because he draws the attacker in to try and dribble past him.
I do agree he’s not the most defensively solid fullback we have, but he’s the most defensively solid right back we have. For an example, if he could actively tackle like Tierney on the opposite side, that would be a whole lot better.
Now let’s move to the other side of the pitch.
It’s been a while since we had a right back racking up the assists for arsenal. I actually can’t remember one who consistently gave us five assists a season, but I’m open to being corrected. I admittedly haven’t tried to look at the numbers. This is because, for years, our right side has predominantly just been a supporting side in attack. The main attack has more often than not come from the left. Think Thierry, Arshavin, then Sanchez, now Auba. Having our left wide attacker as the source of goals usually gives the Left back the opportunity to get into positions to cut back the ball or whip in a cross, while leaving the right side with both the right back and the right sided attacker operating in a similar zone on the edge of the opponents box. With that established, Let’s see what we have in the way of fullbacks and what they offer going forward.
AMN. Watching him tearing down that flank at full speed just reminds me of traditional fullbacks. He has his mind set on getting to the by-line and then taking it from there. I’d say he’s the best dribbler we have at fullback, but also the least dangerous. See Niles attacks the opponents box more often than not from the most obvious area, which is laterally. This causes a scenario where he’s facing a fullback in his most natural position, and he doesn’t really leave much room for his attacking counterpart to vary his run. When Nile gets into an attacking position, his attacker literally has one run, which is to go narrow at the edge of the box. Now unless the opposing defensive midfielders aren’t watching, it means that most times when that ball is played, it will result in that attacker playing the ball further back to our own midfielders. The only advantage to this sort of attack is Niles could actually play a give and go with his attacking counterpart, but against most organized defences, we see him ending up offside because they pretty much expect it. If he’d just watch Bellerin and vary his entry points, That would be great.
Cedric.In the game against Liverpool, I complained that we were having to deal with Robertson simply because Cedric wasn’t putting pressure on him. Right from the first half, he was holding his line too deep, allowing Robertson too much space to receive the ball. The three strikers in the press are not really meant to mark. Their main job is to narrow passing lanes for the opponents to ensure that the fullbacks and line of midfielders behind them have pretty assured ways of winning the ball. Nelson would go narrow into the path of Van Dijk , but Cedric would stay deep enough that all Liverpool would have to do is lob the ball over Nelson , and Robertson would have the time to receive and run at Cedric.That being Liverpool , I excused his poor positioning . Against Aston Villa, I was damn near angered by his movement. Many times, David Luiz literally had to ask him to move and advance. Every time he received the ball, all he did was whip in cross after cross with no variation. He in total whipped in 11 crosses with no success. Admittedly, he has played very little for us and definitely needs time, but his skill set is clearly for particular kinds of games. We can’t depend on crosses in every game. I do like the shape of his crosses though. It’s really beautiful.
Calum Chambers. I love the simplicity in his attacking play, especially when he’s having fun. He does the simple things. Get away from your marker and offer support to your attacker. His delivery is more than a little lacking, but I believe that might be because he’s better at centre back.
Then comes Bellerin. The first place I’ll point out that Bellerin thrives in is in the narrow spaces. Teams more often than not try to overload Arsenal’s right side, and I’ve on many times had my heart in my mouth when Bellerin plays a short give and go with the nearest Central midfielder to get out of a press. Yes, he did play a howler of a pass against City. Let’s act like every time he played that pass, he skewed it. Every player misplaces one or two. Let’s not make a fuss. In coming out of defence, his positioning always gives the nearest centre back someone to pass to, and that’s very important playing out from the back. He however comes into his own in the transition. Despite the fact that I rate Nile’s control higher, I think Bellerin is the more intelligent dribbler. You’ll notice that he always angles his run to make it as uncomfortable as possible for not only the defending midfielder and fullback, but the defending team in general.
Unlike his counterparts, he doesn’t stick to his zone when attacking. He carries the ball with a lot of pace going forward, but I guess what makes him difficult to pick up is where he carries the ball. Take an example of the game against spurs. Bellerin goes outside Moura and Ben Davies then comes in at the edge of the box to set up Auba who kicks some fresh air. Next, he alters his run and comes in right in the middle of their box. He gets blocked from shooting, but the ball still ends up in the box.
Against City, he carries a similar threat in the run leading up to the first goal. He picks up the ball in a very odd position from city’s perspective. Who should track him? Sterling? No, he’d be going too narrow, Mendy? No, he has to watch Pepe, Silva? Maybe. All this time, he’s bearing down on their box. At the end of it all, none of them really approaches him, and Mendy can’t decide whether to stay and support his centerback or go mark Pepe. The end result is simple. An unmarked Pepe has all the time in the world to deliver a cross.
Against Chelsea in the final, it’s a similar question. They take the initiative by trying to throw bodies at him, but then you notice most of their tackles are too early or too late simply because of how odd the position is for them.
Then comes the deliveries. Hector doesn’t cross, and there’s a good reason. Crosses are the easiest thing to defend unless you create a situation where they can’t be defended. Hector’s deliveries are more about efficiency than they are about brute force. It’s quite possible for him to end the game without an accurate cross, but with two key passes. I don’t know if there’s a statistical valuation for a ball carry or a pre assist, but his edge in attack is more about getting the ball into the final third, and I don’t think we have a full back that does that better than him.
I know that there are rumours of him wanting to leave and I’d be gutted if he did. Big reason is, I don’t really see a fullback in our squad who can do what he does.
Thanks for reading.