At the present time, Arsenal have an incredibly competitive squad. An increase in the club’s resources has led to an influx of quality players, and the battle for places is more intense than ever. That’s particularly true of the full-back positions. On the left-hand side, Nacho Monreal is locked in a fierce battle with Kieran Gibbs. On the right, another duel is playing out between Hector Bellerin and Mathieu Debuchy.
Although manager Arsene Wenger has the option to rotate his squad, he must also recognise the importance of a settled back four. Wenger must answer the question: Who represents the best option as Arsenal’s regular right-back?
Wenger currently seems to believe that Bellerin is his best option. After the Spaniard missed the opening fixture of the Premier League season against West Ham, Wenger swiftly restored him to the starting lineup for the match against Crystal Palace. He also started the youngster in both this year’s Wembley showpieces—the FA Cup Final and the Community Shield.
What’s interesting is that in the majority of those games, Bellerin has played behind a narrow right-winger. The reshuffle of the Arsenal midfield has led Wenger to deploy Santi Cazorla centrally alongside Francis Coquelin, forcing Aaron Ramsey out on to the flank. Not a natural wide player, Ramsey tends to drift infield to operate on his preferred central zone.
That means Arsenal would be in danger of lacking width—but for Bellerin. His speed and desire to get forward ensures they maintain a threat on the flank. His attacking ability is one of his major advantages over the more experienced Debuchy, as demonstrated by a tally of two goals in just 20 games*.
Bellerin not only has the stamina and speed to get into the box, but he has the finesse to make an impact once he has arrived there too.
Nevertheless, it’s clear where the Frenchman’s strengths lie. Debuchy is the superior defender, winning 57 percent of his individual duels as compared with Bellerin’s ratio of 43. His primary advantage is in the air.
In 2014-15, Debuchy triumphed in 75 percent of 59 aerial duels. For a full-back, that’s a remarkable success rate. It’s exactly that sort of physical approach that saw Wenger decide to briefly repurpose Debuchy as a centre-half last season.
Perhaps there will be games when Wenger opts for the defensive solidity of Debuchy over Bellerin. Some teams may seem to exploit the Spaniard’s aerial weakness by sending long cross-field passes beyond him. On such occasions, selecting Debuchy to play outside over Per Mertesacker will afford the Gunners greater protection.
However, for the time being, it seems that sticking with Bellerin makes sense. With Monreal offering sturdy defensive support on the left-hand side, Arsenal can afford a more attacking option on the right.
Bellerin’s bravado offers Arsenal width, balance and attacking threat. While he is occasionally caught out defensively, he has the blistering speed required to atone for any errors. For now, Debuchy must wait for a chance to stake his claim.
*all stats via Squawka