Arsenal have climbed to the top of the table, until Sunday at least and they are beginning to emerge as real title contenders. Although supporters will be cautious ahead of the festive period as Arsenal have been known to slip away during the second half of the season. They came from behind to beat an in form Stoke City side and that will give them confidence ahead of their huge match against Manchester City next weekend. If they manage to beat Pep Guardiola’s men, they will send out a big message to the rest of the league.
They have been boosted by the return of Hector Bellerin, who has been missing for the past few weeks. He is easily their right back and they will be delighted to have him back before the Christmas period. The Spaniard was one of the side’s better players against Stoke and the ability to perform at that level immediately after an injury is very impressive. At the age of 21, he will have hopes of developing into one of the best full backs in the world over the next few years and helping Arsenal to a title challenge would be a good starting point to that.
It was a modern day full back performance from Bellerin as he was getting up-and-down the pitch, contributing in both halves of the pitch. Firstly, he was solid defensively and was rarely caught out of position, despite his insistence to continue attacking. He is of course aided by lightning pace, but his match fitness levels wouldn’t have been as high as he would have liked, which makes his work rate in this match all the more impressive. Although he didn’t make any tackles, his awareness was spot on and that showed as he ended the match with two interceptions.
Bellerin is an intelligent attacker and chooses the right times to join attacks as he is always aware of being caught out of position. He added an outlet down the right hand side that has been missing in recent weeks and that added an extra dimension to Arsenal’s attacks. He completed his one and only dribble of the game, as he showed good pace and ball control to make ground into the attacking half, while he also got into shooting positions on a few occasions, attempting two during the match. It isn’t his responsibility to score goals, but the fact that he can chip in every now and again makes him a valuable player to have for Arsenal.
It was his decision making on the ball that was most impressive against Stoke, as he could be relied on in possession and rarely made mistakes. He completed 94% of his passes and made three key passes during the match, including the ball for Theo Walcott’s equalising goal. His ability to influence matches with key passes can’t be matches by any of the other right backs in the squad and he played a major role in Arsenal coming back from behind.
Saturday was a great return from injury for the Spaniard and Arsenal will be hoping that he remains fit for the rest of the season as they clearly missed him during his absence. He is one of the best full backs in the division and has the potential to become one of the best in the world. Although Arsenal are currently sweating over the futures of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, they will also be aware that European giants will be monitoring the progress of Bellerin over the coming years. If he continues to develop at his current rate, teams will come in for him and that has to be a concern for Arsenal in the long term.
Featured image: All rights reserved by Stuart MacFarlane