Bellerin for the Win-g? – Can Hector be our future Right Wing Solution?

On the wing?

On the wing?

Though there seem to be other pressing concerns at the moment like

Who should play in midfield? 

Who do we need to sign in the summer? 

We need to beat Swansea on Monday.

And of course the endless goalkeeper debate for the cup final.  Thought I’d take a break from those and address a suggestion I heard on a couple of pods and have also seen some tweets on the matter – Hector Bellerin should play on the wing!

This idea doesn’t seem crazy and probably makes a lot of sense – we have all seen his speed, ability to beat a man or two, and put the ball in dangerous areas when he goes on those surging runs down the flank.  Add to that the fact that he started his career as a winger at the Barca academy.

Some of you may be thinking that we already have players for that position in the Ox, Gnabry, Walcott, Welbeck, and now Ramsey apparently!  Valid point; but, I’d like to move away from squad depth and address this from a footballing perspective.

Momentum and the Full Back

Mention names like Dani Alves, Cafu, Maicon, Roberto Carlos, and what image does your mind conjure?  I’m hoping that image is of talented full backs bursting down the flank and playing a part in creating a goal for their team!  We can take it down a notch and think of Zabaleta, Ashley Cole, Jordi Alba, Lahm, and you’ll probably think the same.  However, I will stick to the first crop I mentioned because unlike the second crop, these players have/had more of a knack to beat their man and create something on their own.

The best example

The best example

There are certain players who thrive on momentum – the momentum they build as they run in from deep positions; especially when carrying the ball.  The full back position allows the player to build that momentum.  I’ll digress for a moment and say it doesn’t necessarily have to be from the wing; think back to Walcott’s unbelievable run versus ‘Pool, or Henry’s goals versus ‘Pool, Real Madrid, Spurs, think of what Wilshere does when he steps out from the deep and reaches the opposition’s area in a flash.  It’s all about momentum. 

Playing deep gives you a greater view of what is ahead of you and the spaces available.  Full backs can see the spaces that can be exploited and they carry the ball accordingly.  Accelerating from deep, with the ball at your feet, you have time to also consider how you’ll beat the man facing you – should I show him one way and go around the other?  Is he leaving enough space between himself and the touchline for me to skip around easily? Etc.

From a defender’s point of view, stopping a player who has momentum going with him can be very tricky – do I commit?  Do I stand off?  But he’s coming at pace, will he go right or left?  Do I have cover?  He’s already beaten one man…

Of course, a defender or any covering player may also underestimate the opposing player’s ability and hand it down to luck.

Better going forwards than at defending

Better going forwards than at defending

Anyway, it’s the combination of the momentum and creating that uncertainty in the opposing player’s mind that helps these full backs be successful when going forward.  Yes, of course, their ability to skip around a player helps too and that’s why I’ve separated Alves, Maicon and co. from the others.  Their runs start/started from just before their half way line whether on the ball or off the ball.  Their willingness to take on their man and beat him, of course, added to their success.

However, did we ever see any of them be converted to a winger?  No.  For further perspective on this, here are some stats comparing Bellerin and Alves:

Hector Bellerin Dani Alves*
League Games Played 16 27
Chances Created 10 38
Assists 1 3
Key Passes 9 35
Successful Take Ons 23 33

*These figures are from the 2013/14 season as Alves was more prolific in that season

I highlight the take ons because my guess is that popular opinion has been driven by seeing this on the field.  Once again, Dani Alves isn’t a bad comparison and I wish I had stats on Maicon, Cafu, and Roberto Carlos.  Nevertheless, I reiterate the point; none of them were converted to wingers.

By the way, the Ox has had 80+ successful take ons!  Quite a stat that is.

Anyway, I’ll put these players on hold now, and move on to someone more familiar to build on my argument.

The Curious Case of Emmanuel Eboue

Emmanuel Eboue, I felt, was actually a good player before being replaced by Sagna.  Defensively he wasn’t that terrible really, and going forward was one of his better qualities.  Once again, he thrived on momentum.  Some of his memorable runs did start around the halfway line, whether on or off the ball.  He was so confident when taking on the opposing player.

A Curious case

A Curious case

Now, I’m not sure whether it was his attacking qualities that prompted it or the signing of Sagna was made because Wenger thought Eboue’s defensive side wasn’t sufficient; but, Wenger shifted him on the wing.  That, for me, started the downfall of Eboue.  He just could not replicate that same attacking prowess.

It’s very simple why.  He wasn’t used to what was required of a winger; especially in Arsenal’s system.  He was so used to, and good at, running in from deep on the overlap.

Suddenly he had to be further up the field and not hugging the sideline.

Suddenly he had to be more involved in the pass and move rather than do what he was better at.

Suddenly, he was courting the attention of more than one opposing player.  When he was a full back, his team mates could drag some players out of the equation.

Wrapping it Up

There is a tendency for many to believe that XYZ players should be played further up the field when they show better technique or that ability to beat a man and I guess it’s because those skills are very useful in the final third.  Some people believe Wilshere should be played further up, Wenger tried it and it didn’t quite work.  He moved Cesc further up in the much latter part of his Arsenal career and personally, I feel he was as effective.

It’s never as simple as putting two and two together in these matters.  Gareth Bale, in recent memory, is the only full back who successfully converted to an attacker though if I recall correctly, as a full back he never actually did what he did as a winger!

Thrives on momentum

Bellerin is so good at what he does because he thrives on momentum and on banking on the opposing player’s uncertainty.  Additionally, having a skillful winger AND a skillful full back will only give more of a head ache to the opposition.  Defensively he’ll continue maturing but the skill set is there; I won’t go into his defensive improvement areas because that’ll be off topic.

Wrapping it up, in conclusion, NO, Bellerin should not be played on the wing.

Of course, if he does one day, and I’m proven wrong, it would be a pleasant surprise!

Would love to hear your thoughts of course, I always try to understand people’s rationale for their opinions and this was mine. Leave a comment of tweet me!


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4 Responses to Bellerin for the Win-g? – Can Hector be our future Right Wing Solution?

  1. davi May 10, 2015 at 12:04 pm #

    Totally agree on Eboue, I actually think he was on his way to being something like Alves (albeit without the shooting ability) before being replaced by Sagna. I think Wenger just saw the opportunity to sign a ready-made defensive fullback and took it, not thinking it would impact so massively on Eboue’s career. I wish he hadn’t done it to be honest because I think Sagna was always limited and never improved on his (albeit impressive) first season, whereas the sky was the limit for Eboue because of his extra pace and ball-carrying ability. He was better at 1-on-1 defending and just needed time to improve the positional side to defending, which Sagna was already one of Sagna’s main strengths.
    Anyway, I see what you’re saying, but in Bellerin’s case, I do think he could make that adaption. Unlike Eboue, he already has experience playing on the wing and knows more what is required. You can see that he has a real football brain and a level of focus that I think would allow him to adapt to a number of positions, given a little time. In any case, there’s really no need to make a change, he’s doing extremely well where he is and is improving defensively all the time. In an ideal world you’d have your defensive players all very adept at their respective positions but with a high level of skill and attacking intelligence, and Bellerin has exactly that.

    • Omar Hasan Khan May 10, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

      Hi Davi,

      Firstly, thanks for giving this a read!

      Secondly, I definitely agree on Bellerin’s focus and you’re right, perhaps previous experience could help him adapt. Like you said, there’s no real need to make a change at the moment or in the near future.

      Maybe it’s a little early to assess his football brain? I think that is something that becomes more evident in certain situations but he has definitely done well in his current role and shows an understanding of what is required while there is no shortage of confidence either in taking the extra step.

      P.S. Agree on Sagna, every season I kept on asking myself if coaches ever worked on his crosses!

  2. Gerry May 10, 2015 at 12:37 pm #

    Personally, I think you are missing Hector’s biggest attribute, and one absent in the names you mention?
    Namely, his instant acceleration.
    Most of those you mention are taller, but even Bacs wasn’t as quick from a standing start.
    More important, Bellerin plays for Arsenal, and it is this team that is developing with him. And when you remember that the right wing is a vacancy waiting to be filled, partly because Walcott doesn’t add too much to the defence, Welbeck, hasn’t really got the pace or the crossing ability, and along with all the other candidates from within the squad, has a tendency to drift inside.

    That is the difference I maintain is what Bellerin would add from starting with a solid RB behind him, and him slightly further up the pitch.
    Of course, formation wise it might take a bit of tweaking. In a 4-4-2, or 4-5-1 I think he would sit happily on the right of the middle row. in a 4-3-3 it would depend how defensive he needed to be?

    Just thinking to the last game, I thought his best moments came after Wilshere came on for Ramsey. Mainly because the latter always wanted to turn away from the line, and didn’t often make use of the width provided by Bellerin. Surprisingly, Wilshere used his quick burst of speed to go on the outside and beat the defender and happy to use Bellerin a the foil. I am not saying if Wilshere is played out there from the start he would maintain that discipline, but just an observation on Bellerin’s attacking threat being used to better effect.

    Having a wide player who can tackle, probably better than Ox, is an asset, and one we have not got at present. So I am all for giving it a try before the season ends, but it would need Debuchy to be fit to give it a fair test?

    • Omar Hasan Khan May 10, 2015 at 5:44 pm #

      Hi Gerry,

      Thanks for giving this a read and sharing your perspective.

      I have to agree with you on Welbeck and Theo, though for the latter I’ll just add that it’s probably for more than just defensive deficiencies! Welbeck in or out of the line up would probably depend on how Wenger wants to play on the day – I believe he does that have the capability to take on a man and accelerate past him, he’s done it a few times this season but yes, it doesn’t seem to come to naturally to him as it does to Bellerin or the Ox.

      You’re right though, instant acceleration is an attribute I haven’t picked up for some reason – note to self to be a bit more observant! Though I do agree with your observation from the last game, Ramsey was very reluctant to utilize Hector and that may be because of his comfort with play through the center.

      I still think though that with the Ox fit, he’d be more effective on the right hand side; granted he wouldn’t be as defensively strong as Hector but going forward I think he’s got a lot more about him. Plus there’s Gnabry as well waiting in the wings. Having said that, I’m all up for an experiment as well before the season ends just to test it out. Of course, like you have pointed out, Debuchy needs to be fit for that which he just might be.

      Lastly, I just also feel that full backs that push forward and attack like Bellerin do, they go forward with a sense of freedom and adventure. They have less to worry about such as playing a holistic role in the pass-move-build; they know they have to hug that line whether carrying the ball or for diverting attention. It’s a support role, less responsibility. It would be interesting to see if Hector can take on the responsibility that is required on the right side of midfield. At the moment I personally do not believe he can, of course I don’t mind being proven wrong!

      P.S. Surely Dani Alves and Roberto Carlos’ instant acceleration cannot be underestimated?

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