Hector Ballerin – Do we appreciate the quality that he brings?

Emi Martinez, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and err, Hector Bellerin? The Spaniard hasn’t been given enough credit for his role in Arsenal’s recent unheard of run of form against the top 6. He was vilified after returning from injuries that saw him out for around a year and resulted in him only mustering 13 league games this season. Understandably rusty when re-entering the side, he needed time to come back into form. But such is the impatience of football fans, a lot of our fans weren’t prepared to give him that.

He has, however, started to again to show the attacking prowess that was evident when he burst onto the scene and flourished during his more understated run of form in Unai Emery’s first season. He registered 5 assists by January in a spell that saw the team go on that infamously deceiving 22 game unbeaten run. I distinctly remember how much we missed him when he wasn’t available. His absence caused an over reliance on the left flank and Sead Kolasinac’s average attacking output for our creativity. 

We all remember Bellerin’s fantastic dribble in the FA Cup final and his cheeky nutmeg on Sadio Mane the other day – arguably the world’s best wide player. But many of his contributions have gone unnoticed. His passing ability is one of his stronger attributes, applying that Spanish finesse to some excellent Arsenal moves. Bukayo Saka was rightly lauded for what was a gorgeous assist to Aubameyang against Liverpool, but it was a brilliant pass from Hector that initiated that move. With the inside of his boot, he delicately lofted the ball around Milner and Robertson, taking them both out of the game and giving Saka the space he needed to work his magic. This was no isolated incident. He consistently creates and provides excellent inside passes, my favourite being the ball that set up Aubameyang’s stunner in 2018’s spectacular north London derby. He also has a variety crosses in his locker but is particularly strong when drilling it in low.

Not only is he dangerous on the ball, his defensive work has been solid. The whole football world is drooling over Alphonso Davies and one of his most tantalising qualities is his recovery pace – something that Bellerin has been displaying long before him. That lung busting recovery run vs Swansea springs to mind. He’s also a good tackler and positions himself well in the back 5 system that is working wonders for Arteta’s Arsenal. A big game player and good professional, he’s more than a top athlete with great technique. Being punished for poor positioning by Diego Costa in the Europa league semi-final two years ago will have matured him. He hasn’t looked at risk of committing a similar crime since.

The rumours that PSG are interested in our academy graduate were confirmed by David Ornstein on Tuesday evening. At 25, the right-back is about to reach the peak of his career and the reported fee of £25m would be an absolute steal for the Parisians. I have a lot more faith in this side with Bellerin in it and he won’t be easy to replace. Although I rate Maitland-Niles highly, I don’t believe that he is a better or more proven right back than Bellerin, nor somebody who wants to commit his future to that position. 

Although we would be insane to turn down opportunities to sign Houssem Aouar and Thomas Partey, it seems fruitless to weaken one position in order to strengthen another, especially when it means losing a leader to do so. Regarding our squad management, I don’t know why we bothered signing Willian if we’re so keen on Aouar. If Father Football grants our wish and we sign this playmaker of champions league quality, Willian will cease to become someone who simply serves as an obstruction to our young players development. With a surplus of centre-backs, centre-mids and other pieces of deadwood, it boggles the mind that Bellerin would be up for sale for anything less than an extortionate price. That is unless he is pushing for the move himself. We won’t be receving Coutinho to Barcelona money and selling Mustafi, Mkhitaryan, Sokratis and Kolasinac raises £25 million in wages alone. 

I think we have a poor policy in which our academy players are sold before they are given an opportunity to perform at their peak for us. Maitland-Niles would have been a prime example of this had we not u-turned on his transfer the other day – though I do wonder why, if true, one game is enough to change their opinion on him. There seems to be a problematic lack of trust and faith in the players that have grown up in the club. Are we haunted by the failings of Jack Wilshere, a uniquely difficult case? We need to realise that the grass is not always greener on the other side. Henrikh Mkhitaryan replaced Theo Walcott and Kolasinac took Kieran Gibbs’ position, can anyone honestly say that we’ve been better off? Selling Bellerin will hurt all the Arsenal supporters who’ve grown to not just love the player but also the man. A guy who is an important influence in our dressing room. A fantastic player who should be celebrated more.

I understand that as Stan Kroenke continues to be the only owner in the premier league who hasn’t put a penny in to his club, there is a need to sell players. But we have many players less important than Bellerin, are we making enough effort to flog them? Unfortunately, the days of David Dein and Arsene Wenger are over and I no longer have faith that the guys in charge are diligent and committed figures. Let’s hope I’m wrong. 

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