Stephen Bradley wrote a fascinating column yesterday.
Fascinating is always one of those weird adjectives where you’re not quite sure if the person employing the word is genuinely fascinated by the subject matter or is proffering it up as a softener before following it up with a fairly hefty “but”.
So Stephen wrote a fascinating column but…
(Sorry Stephen! Actually in his defence it was a fascinating argument because it was one I hadn’t much considered on the situation of one Hector Bellerin. Equally though, I fundamentally disagreed with a premise or two of the argument. Hence the “but”.)
But I cannot agree with the sentiment that “he’s only a right back.”
For the pedants among you, obviously I recognise that he is a right back – I’m not stupid – but the use of “only” (and indeed the ensuing argument) suggests that being a right back isn’t that important. As a former right back, I refute this in its entirety!
Well, sort of. For some teams it is of course true. Stoke, for example. It doesn’t matter who their right back is (as if I know anyway!) as his only job is to hoof it forward and kick the winger.
But not so for Arsenal Football Club.
This is a fanbase who has had the endure watching the likes of Hoyte, Eboue and Luzhny in that position. And I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to suggest Stephen probably feels the same about left backs as right backs, so there we have also suffered the likes of Traore and Andre Santos. There’s even been a smattering of converted centrebacks who have ‘delighted’ us over the years.
Even Gael Clichy, for all his loyalty, was a bang average footballer for us.
Compare and contrast: Lauren, Ashley Cole…
…and now Hector Bellerin.
We play an attacking brand of football, which is at its best when we have quality full backs. Our style necessitates a somewhat cavalier attitude to required numbers of defenders and the desire of a full back to go forward at a canter and at will.
I can’t be the only person this season so far to nearly have a heart attack when Bellerin is to be seen pressing forward and closing down an opposition full back when we’re one goal up in the late stages of a game and there’s a gaping hole in behind him begging to have the ball lofted into it.
But while we could be better at choosing the time for gallivanting, our style dictates that this marauding quasi-winger tactic is essential to the fluidity of our team.
Perhaps the best example of this is a young chap on our books who, despite acquitting himself well at West Ham in a more rigid defensive shape, has never quite convinced at Arsenal, despite there being no player we would want to succeed more. I’m talking of course about Carl Jenkinson.
He has many of the raw ingredients, but he is simply no match for Bellerin in terms of balancing that attacking fervour with defensive responsibility (or lack thereof at times). At Arsenal, full back is, if not King then at the very least Prince.
Stephen is right in respect that there are more important players for us. After all, few sides would win much without a playmaker of Ozil’s quality for example. We’re in a different position to when Barcelona came in for Henry or Fabregas where the player they wish to steal is undeniably our best.
However, those of us with memories longer than a goldfish still tear our hair out remembering Bacary Sagna’s crossing ability in his latter days at the club. Each time we managed to work an opening on the right side, he would invariably either hit the first man or lay it back into the centre again. Dead end.
Arsene’s sides have always relied on at least one bombing on full back, and clearly in the 2016 cohort that role rests definitively on the shoulders of our younger Spaniard given his partner in crime is the ultra-conservative Monreal.
We have no one else at the club, and no close replacement in the Premier League even, who could offer half of Bellerin’s contribution to our side at either end of the pitch.
So while he might be “only a right back” he’s still a bit more critical to our fortunes than we might care to admit.
In any case, in the truly great sides, every single player matters.
So sling your hook, Barca, maybe you should have been the ones to give him his chance originally, instead of come crying to us now you’ve failed in your succession planning.
We know how well your previous approaches have gone anyway. Petit, Overmars, van Bronckhorst, Henry, Hleb, Song, Vermaelen, Fabregas – how many have truly had great Barcelona careers? Exactly.
Bellerin might be “only” a right back, but he’s *our* right back.
So hands off.