Much has been written on the form of our Spanish fullback Hector Bellerin and for sure, he has been frustrating from a defensive point of view, for some time in my opinion. Ironically, however, whilst defensively he can be questioned, offensively on Saturday, he seemed to find his feet once more.
Many armchair pundits have called for the introduction of Lichtsteiner and many still will. The appeal of the experience of the 6-time Italian title winner is obvious. From what we have seen of him, he is primarily a defensive fullback and it is in this aspect of his game that Bellerin can frustrate.
However, what none of us observers really know is what Bellerin is being asked to do and indeed what others are being asked to do when the young Spaniard is involved in the attack. What is obvious thought is that he does advance too early on occasions and seems to be slower to get back then he once was. At the end of last season, I think most of us put that down to the fact that, unlike most of his peers he had not had respite in cup matches and perhaps questioned the support he received from the player ahead of him.
All that said, the solution to the defensive frailties and how exposed our central defenders often are when our fullbacks offer the width, seems relatively straightforward to me. Whilst you can easily point to Monreal’s goal from Bellerin’s assist being a positive of having both full backs in the attack, I am convinced the negatives of that over exuberance far our way the positives. Against a better side West Ham, Arsenal could have lost Saturday’s match before half-time.
Years ago on some live podcast, I likened my theory to a basic marionette puppet – Lift one arm and the other automatically dropped. For if the attack is on the right, Bellerin will be crucial to that so as he goes up, Monreal should automatically do the opposite. Of course if the attack is on the left and involving Nacho then Hector should stay. We should have more than enough in attack without the second fullback joining and if the move breaks down we will always have 3 defenders in our own half making us less susceptible to the quick break.
As an extra insurance, we have spent millions on a mobile, danger scenting deep lying midfielder in Torreira, so we should be utilising him. If either 433 or 4231 are Emery’s system, in any given match then the Uruguayan should be patrolling just ahead of the half way line and sense the interceptive position he needs to adopt or support if our attack breaks down. This still leaves potentially fullback providing the overlapping width and another five attacking players in the attack. It is a question of balance and six in attack and four as insurance seems sensible to me.
To play like this is just a matter of training and repetition until the disciplines become habit and ultimately the norm. If this sounds too simplistic that is because is very simple. Football is a simple game when played well and played effectively. I am not a fan of ex-players questioning the new regime this early but the likes of Adams, Winterburn and Dixon know rather a lot about defending and they will always talk about the gaps between the back four or back three if one of the full back is in attack never being more than 5 yards. This again requires repetition on the training ground and good communication between the defenders. In Sokratis and Mustafi, we have two strong talkers so as their partnership grows and becomes more established, this should be a positive. The jury is out for some but personally; I am warming to the Greek and sense true leadership qualities.
Like I say simples…..