Believe it or not, there are a few players in the Arsenal squad who divide opinion: some whose weekly performances don’t seem to merit their place in the Arsenal First Team starting line-up. Some might argue that ALL ELEVEN players who regularly start for the Gunners should be shown more bench-time, from Cech – in goal – all the way up to our £350k/week superstar, Mesut Ozil.
Today, in the first of our “Verdict” columns, we will be turning a judgmental eye on our Boy From Barca – Hector Bellerin.
Should we sell him? Loan him out? Drop him to the bench?
YOU BE THE JUDGE.
Consider the evidence laid out below, and then pass your sentence in the poll at the end.
FOR THE PROSECUTION
Representing the Prosecution, I’d like to put forward my reasons for not giving a rat’s ass if ‘Ector leaves Arsenal for Barcelona, Italy, or the catwalks of Milan, taking his questionable fashion sense and his manbun-in-progress with him.
For me – Bellerin epitomizes everything that is wrong with Arsenal these days: an emphasis on form at the expense of function, a team that is a manifestation of Wenger’s obsession with Football as some kind of art form, a display of self-expression with the accidental and annoying inclusion of a football. This Arsenal team has become a bunch of effete, entitled, over-groomed and molly-coddled thoroughbreds.
For years now, Wenger teams have been accused of being spineless, “a little bit lacking in confidence”, easy-to-be-got-at, psychologically and physically frail. Arsenal used to be feared on the pitch – with the sight of players such as Martin Keown, Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira and the Iceman himself, Dennis Bergkamp, chilling the hearts of the opposition.
Those days are long gone. Now – if you want to see Arsenal crack – just get in their faces: press them, challenge for the loose ball, commit to your tackles. This team isn’t going to fight for aerial balls: those are all yours. Along with 50-50 balls. Heck – you can even have the 70-30s.
Bellerin is a prima ballerina in the current troupe: sure – he’s a cheetah, a greyhound, so quick with his feet, so nimble and prance-y. But so what?! What use to us is a player that has hundreds of touches without contributing anything meaningful? (Unless the meaning you are searching for is to be the dead-end that adds width to a side that suffers from having hardly any penetration… Bellerin is the beautifully manicured right hand that juggles the ball, to and fro, fro and to, around the opposition’s box.
When he finally plucks up the courage to run into the glorious amounts of space he is afforded, his final ball is decidedly Gervinhoesque – that is to say, dismally unproductive. He rarely connects with Arsenal players running into, or waiting in the box. In Giroud, we had one of the finest target men in the League – but I’m not sure Bellerin ever managed to find him.
Those Damning Stats
The stats don’t lie: here is comparison between Bellerin and his equivalent counterpart in the other Top 6 teams. Sure – I know that those other teams don’t play with the same formation/ tactics that we do – I may be comparing apples and oranges – but there are still statistics in here that are appropriate to any player in that position.
In short – Bellerin is way worse of a player than a lot of you give him debit for. I spent a LOT of time compiling this table – probably more than I should have – because I am most definitely not a statistician. (Click on the image to view it in full resolution). I used Per 90 metrics to take into account the fact that Liverpool and Spurs have alternated between two players.
In short – Bellerin does not top the table in ANY of the 25 metrics selected! And he is the worst (of 8) in more than 1/4 of them. In fact – his average rank score in all 25 metrics is 6.2/8 – which is the lowest of all 8 players.
Add to this the fact that his stats have been deteriorating over the last three seasons, and I think that puts paid to the “he’s only young, he’s got a lot of promise” argument. Sure – he may be playing in a team that has its faults – but there are statistics in there that have nothing to do with team tactics: Cross Accuracy, for one (rather important skill to have as a wing-back, surely?)
His best ranked metrics are in Chances Created and Key Passes, where he is 3rd, albeit considerably far behind the two players above him. Ballerina – I mean Bellerin (damn you, Autocorrect!) – has the shortest Average Pass Length, and yet he only has the 4th highest Pass Completion %, giving him the lowest xPass Effectiveness of the 8 players compared. He has the lowest Accurate Long Ball metric (by far) – meaning that he’s not useful when it comes to suddenly switching play to the opposite wing. He’s only good for short passes – and I use the word ‘good’ loosely. Tippy-Tappy – round the top of the box. ‘Probing’ – I’ve heard it called…
As a defender, though, Hector is pretty ineffective too – with the most Defensive Errors, and Errors Leading To Goal (per 90). Bellerin is the worst of the 8 players when it comes to Interceptions, and in the bottom 3 for Blocks, Recoveries, Aerial Duels Won, Tackles Won AND Tackles Lost.
So – apart from the fact that I find his personal style of play infuriating, in a team that suffers from the same lack of purpose – I feel exonerated by the fact that statistical analysis seems to back up the fact that Bellerin just isn’t as good as people say he is, and he’s getting worse. Perhaps the fact our rivals’ counterparts ALL score higher than him gives an indication of how far behind we have slipped in our expectations…
I say sell Bellerin and get a player who adds some muscle to the team – either in defense OR attack, preferably both.
The Prosecution rests.
FOR THE DEFENCE
I for one have become very disappointed with the development of Hector Bellerin. When he first came into the team he showed all the signs of becoming a class right back.He was able to use his speed to get back into defensive positions and also to help our forwards. Nowadays he is too often caught out of position and his crossing of the ball has been atrocious. In his defence he is still young enough to get back to his old form and even improve.
Bellerin has bags of potential. He has got stamina, desire and pace to burn. These are qualities that cannot be written off for any successful fullback in the modern game. A fullback, especially one playing in system and style like Arsenal’s needs abundance of pace and some skill in order to join attacks and recover as well. You just have to take a look at the likes of Calvajal, Marcelo, Alaba, Alba and see the impact of full on attack and defence. The common traits they all have are pace and skill. Bellerin have these qualities even if he has lately not showing the skill aspect. We saw how he could have an impact in our attack and defence in his first senior season. His recovery pace was excellent, he also assisted and scored some goals.
Bellerin is however weak on the mental side when it comes to defending. His positioning and awareness has not been great, as we saw players running in-behind him on a number of occasions. But these weaknesses can be coached. He’s barely been coached since he broke into the seen. The season Walker is having can be a testament to what coaching can do a fullback in the modern. Am sure under the right coach and guidance Bellerin can do better than what we see Walker do this season.
My verdict therefore is that don’t sell.
Hector has become one of the front running scapegoats for Arsenals poor season. However, I put to you that this singular criticism is unjust and unfair.
Does he have natural talent? Yes, that is unquestioned.
Is Hector good enough to be an Arsenal player? Yes
Has his form dropped? Yes, but so has the form of all the defensive unit.
The mitigating circumstances in Hector case are as follows:
- As a wing back, Hector’s role is to get forward to provide the width with little regard for defending.
- As a full back, Hector’s role is to get forward to provide the width and to get back and defend.
The job description is consistently changing and there is little or no guidance from senior staff.
The defence hereby asks for all charges to be dropped, the following three conditions be met, namely:
- His role be defined
- The management pick and stick to a formation
- The management provides concise instructions and training for the role.
and that the player is reinstated as soon as possible.
The case for the defence rests.
Innocent or guilty?
Bellerin has evident quality and potential. And he showed it when he first broke into the team. But then as fans, we don’t know how he is being developed. It’s not all Mr. Wenger’s fault, but to blame Bellerin for this alone is unjust.
He has not progressed defensively, but is he being coached? We know there are few dedicated defensive coaches at Arsenal. And Wenger has never prioritised this, even during the Invincibles/winning years. Adams, naturally a legend, said that defensive coaching under him was very weak. It’s been alleged that a senior defender at the club broke down in a meeting, in saying he needed more help. In the midst of this environment, can Bellerin be blamed for not enhancing?
Moreover, he is not beating the final man in attacking positions. Can we say this is entirely his fault? Maybe he is being coached into not beating the man?
His off the field activities, as he himself says, are his own business. He is human, and he has every right to hobbies/passions. It’s wrong to say that this is interfering with his play, as he is not the only footballer to have prominent outside interests whether at Arsenal or in other clubs.
The evidence is thus scant, and not sufficient enough to grant a conviction.
VERDICT – INNOCENT
I am certainly with the defense and furthermore feel he needs to be kept at all costs.
He is the perfect example of a player many end up criticizing in isolation due to structural issues with our playing style.
He’s asked to cover the whole right side as well as be the only repeatable source of attacking width there. Better in defense than people think and his link play/ball retention is immense.
End product is the only thing he’s lacking and it will come when we learn to play in advanced areas quicker under a new manager.
So that’s it.
You’ve heard from the prosecution and the defence. You’ve seen some stats. You’ve heard emotional appeals, and seen the finger of blame pointed elsewhere.
It’s time for you to decide.
Paul Hepker (aka invinciblog/batmandela) recently returned to South Africa after a 16-year stint in Hollywood, where he plied his trade as a film and TV composer. He adopted Arsenal in the mid-80′s, and if it doesn’t start behaving soon he’s going to send it to boarding school.
As an ardent Gunner propagandist – he has contributed a number of tongue-in-cheeky images to the Goonerverse – one of which is bound to get him into trouble at some point.