How good can Héctor Bellerín become?
Right now our young fullback is just 20 years of age, yet he’s already packed the bags of a French international with 27 caps and despatched him back to Ligue 1. In his first game since formally sealing his cast iron grip on Arsenal’s right-back shirt, he turned in another top level performance as we cruised to a crucial victory and put an end to by far our worst run of the season.
He’s usually renowned for his ability going forward, as demonstrated against Sunderland in January (“No Özil, no problem!”), but his performance against Bournemouth was perhaps as remarkable for its disciplined nature. The Spaniard had a relatively quiet game in the opposing half (by his own admittedly marauding standards at least) but put in a mature display alongside a rather more shaky-looking Gabriel.
Indeed, it was Gabriel whose blushes Héctor saved in the first half when the centre-half was caught in two minds and allowed a Bournemouth player to cut inside him and head towards Petr Čech. Bellerín’s recovery pace was on display in all its technicolour glory as he sprinted back to get a toe to the ball just as the Bournemouth man was about to unleash a shot.
Of course, there are still a few things for Héctor to work on. His tackle in that situation was excellently timed but we’ve certainly seen penalties given in those kind of situations even where the player wins the ball. If he had reacted a little bit quicker to Gabriel’s obvious discomfort then he could have got back with more time to make it a little bit less of a desperate challenge.
The Spaniard didn’t have it all his own way against Pugh and Daniels, with support from his winger somewhat unreliable particularly after the Ox’s withdrawal, but he also made sure he didn’t overcommit himself in those scenarios. It meant that although the Cherries were able to get half a yard here and there to put a cross in, they also never managed to burst past Bellerín and surge towards goal.
The most noticeable change in Héctor’s game recently though is his aerial improvement. In a podcast earlier this season we mused on his weakness when balls were lofted towards his wing, with him often misjudging them and getting outjumped or outmuscled even when he did pick out the trajectory well.
Against Bournemouth, as against Southampton earlier in the week, Bellerín was able to compete for those airborne passes and often win them, whether by getting his head to the ball or simply ushering his man under the flight. He has added some extra physicality which is helping him hold his own in those battles – a little nudge here or a forearm laid into the small of his opponent’s back – and while some might call it cheating, it’s a necessary skill that all too often we see teams employ against us.
Even with his solid defensive performance, he still found time to burst forward on a lung-busting run in the last few minutes of the game and release the pressure, and even played a small part in the build up to Mesut Özil’s cracker of a strike.
Another top performance from the best young fullback in the league. Just give him the number two shirt already.