Hector Bellerin was a sensation.
He broke out a couple of seasons ago, and was on a trajectory that had him becoming one of the world’s best right-backs. The Spaniard’s speed caught the eye, his past as a winger made him an extra option in attack, and his defence was improving.
In the defensive third, Bellerin has declined. This began last season, and has continued into 2017/18. Unlike with so many Arsenal players, it has not been a barrage of injuries that have limited Bellerin’s potential.
He featured in 33 Premier League matches last season, and has started 18 this.
The wing-back role was meant to be perfect. Enabling the freedom to play as the primary wide option, it seemed a logical next step in the Spaniard’s development. Instead, the extra responsibility has not gone well.
Isolated on the flanks, Bellerin has too often been naïve defensively. When left in a one-on-one situation, he is too often rash. When Arsenal are hit on the counter-attack, it is too often Bellerin out of position. In the attacking third, he is wasteful.
It is not at the stage of liability just yet, though.
At 22, the Spaniard can ‘afford’ a stagnation like the last 12 months. If you were to name the best young full-backs right now, Bellerin still appears. Rightly so, but – given his experience – it was expected he would be a more rounded player by this point.
This, of course, isn’t the first player that has ground to a halt at Arsenal. His reputation is still very good, and Barcelona may yet come calling (though the signing of Nelson Semedo makes it pretty improbable).
Bellerin may just need time out of the team. Call it a rest, call it being dropped, whatever you like, this spell of indifference is a concern for Arsenal. One of their greatest assets is at risk of settling into relative mediocrity.
If that is what is needed, Arsene Wenger’s options are limited. Mathieu Debuchy is the clear alternative. The Frenchman has been very good in the Europa League, but would Wenger really turn to a player that has been such an outcast?
Maybe, just maybe, he should. Rotation over this torrid few weeks of fixture is a necessity, and Debuchy has at least looked capable of performing in Europe. It’s a gamble of sorts, yes, but it has the potential for a spectacular Bellerin payout.
The Spaniard is yet to miss a Premier League minute this season. Wenger’s management throughout the Europa League schedule was impressive, now he must show that same flexibility for league matches.
Starts against Liverpool and Chelsea are certainties for Bellerin. Perhaps the away fixtures with Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion give Debuchy a chance.
Written by Sam Cox
Follow Sam on Twitter @SamRCox_
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