One of the many footballing developments to have happened in the 21st century is the evolution of full-backs. Their role on the pitch has become so much more than simply preventing the opposition winger from getting a cross in. One such full-back, who epitomises the modern-day approach to the role, is Hector Bellerin.
He isn’t a man who divides the fan base. Unfortunately for him, he has become the scapegoat for the entirety of Arsenal’s misfortune this season. In particular, since the departure of lightning rod Arsene Wenger, every on-field mistake from Bellerin has been brought into the limelight.
Its understandable. Four of the five goals that Arsenal have conceded this season have come down their right side, albeit not necessarily down to poor positioning. Particularly against Chelsea and West Ham, the Spaniard was caught too far up the field, leaving the defence exposed on the counter.
For a side like Barcelona, or even a team like Man City, where the midfield and centre backs are drilled enough to prepare for a counter attack even if one of the full backs is in the opposition final third, someone like Bellerin is perfect.
He is one of only ten full-backs to register an assist this season. This demonstrates the value of a full-back who can contribute to the attack, whipping in crosses and adding another dimension to attacking moves.
Finding the Balance
The problem for many Arsenal fans, however, is his defensive form. Bellerin has been dispossessed at least once every game this season. It’s a stat like this that causes concern. There’s nothing wrong with a flying full-back, but he must be taking care to not lose possession when he’s up there.
Bellerin should take note from his fellow countryman, Nacho Monreal. While I personally have a lot of time for Monreal, he does the things that Bellerin often fails to. He was dispossessed 0.2 times per game last year, while Bellerin did so 0.9 times a game.
That’s not to say that Monreal doesn’t attack. He still registered two assists last year, only one fewer than the right back. He does attack but does so with a more pragmatic approach.
Bellerin should learn from this. He is talented, and extremely gifted physically. If he were to simply check his runs a little more, or try and play with the midfielders rather than go for the overlap as often as he can (because he can), then there may be a slight upturn in his form this season.
As it is, he is not doing as badly as people think. But he certainly should be doing better. His defensive contribution is solid, with good tackling numbers and the third highest number of interceptions of all Premier League defenders this season. He just needs to focus on being in the right positions to sure up the Arsenal defence.