The Plusses & Pitfalls of Youth

Originally posted on You Are My Arsenal

The fallout from the most recent North London Derby resulted in a whole host of new coping mechanisms cropping up amongst Gooners. Some resorted to the tried and tested method of searching for a scapegoat and giving the aforementioned horned beast a vociferous lashing with a keyboard. Others had a trusted ally to forget their woes – alcohol. Some though, found it most cathartic, to self-flagellate and whisper apologetic mantras to whatever deity they believe in…..That may be just me then. Ahem.

Going back to finding an avenue for blame.  In recent games our young Spanish Right-Back Hector Bellerin has been the focus of the vilification from some quarters. Whilst Aaron Ramsey has shouldered the burden for the majority of the season after being unable to scale the heights of the previous season – his injury and intermittent appearances have allowed another to bear the brunt.

It is inarguable that it was on our right side that spurs found most joy. They found that Bellerin, despite Welbeck’s best intentions – could be singled out due to his penchant for wandering a little higher up the pitch than is warranted at times. Due to this, it left Eriksen and his cohorts to wreak merry havoc and launch meaningful attacks that were mostly repelled. The sheer amount of passes into our box however, meant that the law of averages came to the fore and they eventually breached us.

For Bellerin to suffer the lions share of criticism may be unjust. If viewed again, it is hard to find anyone who covered themselves in anything other than regret at their substandard performance. Ozil showed more desire in his game and Welbeck was full of endeavour but aside from these straws that have been plucked – there was little else to raise a smile amongst the Arsenal faithful. Nacho Monreal though, has changed Gooners opinion – and for the exact reason that Bellerin is receiving the magnifying glass treatment.

In recent weeks, Nacho has turned fans perceptions around. From originally being nonplussed at the fact he can claim to be a Spanish International – now Gooners are starting to see why he was so highly rated. His stint as emergency Centre-Back alongside Mertesacker has seemingly injected his defensive instincts with belief and he now has our left side of defence sewn up tight. His ability to read when to attack and when to sit back has grown immeasurably and has allowed confidence to bloom. This ability is what Bellerin has to develop. Hector versus Leicester in a fraught 2-1 win showed again that his inexperience was his biggest weakness rather than an inherent flaw that requires months of ironing out on the training pitch.

Debuchy – our first choice on the right side at the back – has shown the perfect mixture of when to race forward and when to hang behind. Unfortunately for us though, our bequiffed Gallic Right-Back is currently suffering a shoulder injury. The ages of Monreal and Debuchy? 28 and 29. Bellerin is 19.

Bellerin has shown great talent when called upon to assist an attack. He has even broken his goal duck. When defending one-vs-one, he has evidenced that he can keep it tight and not allow passage. It is his naivety when racing forwards that is punishing us and turning the spotlight of negativity on him.

Bellerin scores

At 19 years old and with only 13 appearances at the time of writing – a little moisture behind his ears is surely excusable? The same problem is shared with all young players. A club that is constantly in the limelight such as Arsenal is sometimes ill-equipped to be the kiln that readies these precocious talents. Hence, Sanogo is sharpening his finishing at Crystal Palace. Finding his shooting boots in front of 60000 Gooners will not aid his search. Bellerin though, especially as he plays in a defensive role, will need to develop balance in his game and take the tongue-lashings when they are doled out,

In a way, it is indicative of the confidence that Wenger has in Hector. There is no doubt he will be an immense talent that will trouble the Spanish squad in a few years. Even now he is showing that he is Premiership quality – just with an occasional chink in the armour.

Hector and Arsene

So, Bellerin must learn quickly. the old adage – sink or swim – is especially relevant. We will see whether Hector has the famous ‘mental strength’ that Arsene harps on about so often. With every single mistake capable of causing palpitations amongst a huge fanbase, our Spanish wonder must glean quickly from those around him. It has become quite evident that Mertesacker suffers as a result of child-minding. When asked to rein in a relatively inexperienced partner – his usual masterly reading of the game becomes weaker and as a result, the whole house of cards that is built on our backline can come crashing down. Watching a green player is akin to driving behind a learner driver – you try to exercise patience as we all had to learn at some point and you realise that mistakes happen to everyone, but you don’t want it to be at the expense of something precious – like your time or more importantly, three gleaming points.

With Debuchy on the sidelines, hopefully he has found the time to take young Bellerin to one side and give him some nuggets of wisdom in order to put a patch on the rather obvious gaping hole in his armoury. On the other hand though, maybe the rivalry vibe Debuchy is getting from Hector is so ripe that he may want to keep his secrets to himself and therefore, an advantage. When Mathieu does eventually regain match fitness, he will probably slot straight back in, but knows that Hector has time on his side and a rather burgeoning reputation.

Bellerin has his blistering pace and a growing set of skills. If he can show Arsene that he can take the heat from his inevitable defensive indiscretions and learn to close the door when it is vital to – he has a place in the line-up for years to come. At least until Barca come knocking for their Hector back.

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