The Arsenal Affair

The Arsenal Affair

Friday, 31 July 2015

Obi Wan Debuchy battles Anakin Bellerin

Forgive the pun-tastic, self indulgent headline, but it seemed a necessary evil to describe the fascinating duel that bestows upon Arsenal this season. A historical tale of young verses old, apprentice verses the master, a war waging to define the club's number one right-back.

The two contenders are the experienced Mathieu Debuchy against the young Spanish pretender Hector Bellerin. Both players possess the qualities to be as good as any other right-back in the country, but who will stamp their authority on a first 11 and make it their own? Although the collision course is set for the start of the new premier league season, the story began 12-months ago when it became clear Bacary Sagna would be leaving North London.

Debuchy's quality had been proven at Newcastle, but it was the international stage where he has cemented his reputation as a standout performer in the French national team since his debut in November 2011.  His displays in the 2012 European Championships and the 2014 FIFA World Cup were singled out as one of the few positives for the French. He seemed a natural successor to the departing Sagna and his initial four league games showcased his strengths, but the September fixture with Manchester City saw the former Lille defender damage ankle ligaments that would keep him out until December. The Frenchman recovered and lasted six more games, impressing again before dislocating his shoulder against Stoke City in January, he did not feature again in the League.

                        

Hector Bellerin was known 12-months ago as a very exciting prospect, many believing he would spend the season on loan in the Championship gaining experience. Due to Injuries to Debuchy and Calum Chambers, Wenger had no choice but to field the rookie-Bellerin in a Champions League group game against Borussia Dortmund in the intimidating Westfalenstadion. Bellerin's inclusion proved costly as he could not prevent Arsenal losing and suffering a torrid night against Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. This baptism of fire provided a learning curve for the young Spaniard, he quickly realised the level that was required of him in order to progress at Arsenal. Wenger continued to give the 20-year-old opportunities and this time Bellerin proved he belonged in a run of games, impressing with his recovery pace and overlap play. The former La Masia prodigy even found the net with two fine strikes against Aston Villa and Liverpool.

The battle saw its first engagement at the tail-end of last season as Debuchy returned to fitness in April, he made his comeback in the FA Cup Semi final win over Reading. Wenger was left with a choice for the final few league games and cup final. Either drop the red hot Bellerin or play an unfit Debuchy. Under those terms, it was clear the safest option was to play the Catalan native. As the Gunners clinched 3rd place and a record breaking FA Cup, the French full-back conceded his place on the field for the bench.

                                 

The good news for Arsenal is they are rich in right-backs. Debuchy and Bellerin's merits are clear for all to see. The French international is a tough-tackling full-back, with good aerial presence, despite being under 6-feet. His best tool, however, is his consistency and workrate. He may not possess the speed of his competitor, but he is fully capable in getting forward and supplying crosses for his French compatriot Olivier Giroud. Hector Bellerin is exactly what you would expect from a mesh of Barcelona and Arsenal. Composed and clever with his passing, able to play the game at a higher tempo then most. He has surprised many with how his understanding with Per Mertesacker has developed, but it's Hector's lightning pace that helps him be so effective in defence and so dangerous going forward.

So who does Wenger choose? The Answer is simple: Debuchy is reliable and performing to his full potential, playing him in the big away games against the more dangerous opposition appears the most logical solution. Giving Bellerin the nod in most of the fixtures will help preserve Debuchy's fitness and help further Bellerin's development without leaving him exposed in games like he was against Dortmund. If Wenger manages this efficiently enough, he will get the best out of both defenders and their battle will bring the best out of each other. Hector Bellerin will no doubt grow into his potential and could become one of the worlds best full-backs, when he wins his first cap for Spain no doubt Barcelona may take more of an interest. If Arsenal and Bellerin can resist such advances they will continue to revel in their wealth of right-backs for years to come.

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