Hector Bellerin’s recovery from injury has been seemingly never-ending. Indeed, the Spaniard has suffered more than his fair share of misfortune in recent times, with the troubles he is only just starting to overcome traceable all the way back to the start of the 2018/19 season. Finally, though, Bellerin is back playing first-team football for Arsenal again, playing the full 90 minutes in Thursday’s 2-0 away win over Southampton.
While the Gunners enjoyed a largely fuss-free evening at St Mary’s Stadium, registering their first win since the resumption of the Premier League season after the coronavirus shutdown, this had the potential to be a tricky test for Bellerin. The Spaniard passed that test with flying colours, though, turning in arguably the most complete performance of his comeback so far.
Pitted directly against Ryan Bertrand, Bellerin had his hands full right from the start. Much of Southampton’s game plan, at least from an attacking point of view, appeared to focus around getting the left-back in behind the Arsenal defensive line. More than once, they attempted to play a diagonal, cross-field ball in behind Bellerin, but he was alert to the danger.
The 25-year-old made a particularly impressive intervention five minutes before half-time, sliding in on Bertrand to make a last-ditch tackle when the Southampton left-back would have otherwise been through on Emiliano Martinez in the Arsenal goal. Bellerin was both aware and confident enough in his own physical capacity to stretch and win the ball.
Arsenal enjoyed a great deal of joy on the counter-attack against the Saints and while the majority of their play came down the left flank, Bellerin still offered an effective outlet down the right. The Spaniard attempted two dribbles (as per WhoScored), as many as anyone else in an Arsenal shirt, but failed to make a single cross over the 90 minutes, hinting at his preference to keep hold of the ball and work it into the channels rather than sling it into the box.
Bellerin was involved in Arsenal’s general play as much as anyone else, attempting 48% total passes, a tally that was only bettered by Shkodran Mustafi who played just one pass more. However, the Spaniard’s pass success rate was relatively low, at 60.4%, demonstrating how Bellerin was keen to attack even when occupied by Bertrand. He remains a risk-taker.
The Spaniard made three interceptions and made five clearances – only Rob Holding made more among his Arsenal teammates. Bellerin could have added his name to the score sheet, presented with a good shooting opportunity from inside the box on the hour mark. The right-back had time to steady himself, but his powerful effort was blocked, only adding to the sense of a personal duel between the two players.
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That Bellerin played the full 90 minutes hints at Mikel Arteta’s growing faith that the Spaniard has put his injury troubles behind him. While the right-back should still be treated with a degree of care, Arsenal can now count on him to play full matches without having to worry about his fitness too much. That, as modest as it may seem, is significant progress. Arsenal’s defence is in desperate need of reconstruction, but in Bellerin they might have a long-term solution at right-back again.