In defence of Bellerin: Under-fire full-back still a Barcelona target for a reason

COMMENT

At a time of crisis, it’s vital that everyone unites together as one. Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin is experiencing his worst run of form since breaking through into the starting line-up two years ago and it has coincided with the club’s worst ever season under Arsene Wenger, which has seen them lose four away games on the trot for the first time under the Frenchman.

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Bellerin is part of a back five that has conceded three goals in four successive away league games for the first time since 1929 and the criticism targeted at the Spaniard is something he is not used to dealing with. He was one of several players targeted with chants of "you're not fit to wear the shirt" as he came over to take a throw-in in front of the away section during the second halfof the Gunners 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace, where boos rang out as he and the rest of the Arsenal players greeted their fans at full-time.

“It will make me stronger, that’s how I see it. Some people can be destroyed or collapse but I think I and everyone at the club needs to look at it positively," he explained.

“We just need to do our job on the pitch. We know that fans are angry, we know that people want results because we’re Arsenal and that’s what’s expected from us.”

Bellerin

Indeed, while the chants weren’t specifically directed at Bellerin, as many have alluded to following the game, it is worth noting that the player’s form has been mediocre since returning from a five-week ankle injury lay off in November. Others have suggested that his lapses in defensive concentration are down to the fact he signed a£100,000-per-week bumper contract extension while on the sidelines five months ago.

“He has not come back to his level since he has been injured,” said Wenger.

“You get bad habits and you forget that your job first is to defend and win challenges because you protect yourself a little bit.

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“Then you realise you have to come back and I think now he is trying to focus again on what is ­important, to defend well and after he can give us that extra bit that is important as well.

“He is guy who is genuinely ­Arsenal and wants to do well. He is ready to play with pain. Like all the players, they are focused, conscious that they want to respond and ­accept completely that we were not at the level.”



Arsenal West Brom Hector Bellerin Nacho Monreal

The major weaknesses of Bellerin’s game haven’t always been noticeable. His positioning at times this season has put centre-back Shkodran Mustafi in trouble at times, leaving the German international to cover and make last-ditch challenges. Against Palac, it was clear that a mixture of low confidence and poor positioning saw wingers Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha get the better of their opponent with absolute ease throughout the match

Bellerin has a recorded a top speed this season of 34.9 km/h, a rate that only two full-backs, Tottenham's Kyle Walker and Stoke's Erik Pieters, have bettered. While his pace has previously bailed him out at times, this season has exposed the former right winger’s defensive frailties and it is clear that he has some way to go before becoming one of the best right-back’s in Europe.

His attacking nature has never been questioned and having 61 touches in the opposition box this season (more than Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso) shows that the intent is there. Barcelona’s main priorities in the transfer market this summer are Bellerin and PSG star Marco Verratti - and while they are only likely to land the latter it should be noted that Bellerin is on the shortlists of several elite European sides for a reason.

He possesses pace, an eye for a pass and all the hallmarks of a top class full-backwhich will improve with time and hard work. His confidence may be at an all-time lowright now but there is no doubt that Bellerin has all the potential required to become one of the best in his position - and that is why the likes of Barcelona and Manchester City want to sign him.

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