Bellerin or Cedric - Who Should be Starting for Arsenal more Frequently?
Over the past seasons, Hector Bellerin has quite comfortably been Arsenal’s starting right back, predominantly due to a lack of competition for the role. However, following the arrival of Cedric and subsequent performances he has shown, there might finally be another player to pressure Bellerin for the starting spot.
Here’s a look at the strengths and weakness both options have:
When Hector Bellerin first emerged onto the football scene as a teenager, it became widely thought that he would go on to be one of the world’s best full backs. By the age of 21, the Spaniard had been named in the Premier League Team of the Year, following a very successful 2015/16 domestic campaign.
Everything seemed set for Bellerin to continue developing as a player. Yet five years on, it would be fair to say he has certainly not progressed as a player as we would've liked him to.
Whilst a rupture to his cruciate ligament at the start of 2019 did set him back a great deal, it is all too easy to blame his decline on just his injury, as he did appear to be playing below the high standards he set for some months before that. Since returning from his ACL tear following a strenuous recovery, Bellerin has found himself back as Arsenal’s first choice right back, with no real competition to put his place at risk.
It would appear from the way he gets discussed across social media in particular, that Bellerin is one of the players that Arsenal fans are often left displeased with. Whilst I do not agree with the pure extent and hyperbole of such opinions that are glorified online, I do think our right back is arguably the weakest link in our team.
What I struggle with relating to the 25-year-old is his overall averageness, without meaning to sound too harsh. He isn’t the best going forward, especially in terms of final product, and neither is he particularly defensively secure; the majority of threatening attacks we face seem to come down his flank.
It leaves me questioning what it is that Arteta sees in the Spaniard, or whether it is just a lack of other options that has seen Bellerin so securely nailed-on as a starter each week.
Whilst it is right to point out his weaknesses, it seems only right to also praise Bellerin’s stronger attributes. It is clear to see that tactically, Arteta wants his right back to move inside into midfield when we are on the ball- this has been an evident instruction from the day the manager arrived.
With Bellerin, Arteta aims to emulate the play style of Manchester City’s Joao Cancelo. One of the strengths that the Arsenal right back has is his ability to travel with the ball and drive inside, as seen most significantly in the build up to Aubameyang’s FA Cup winning goal last August.
It is, too, fair to say that Bellerin comes across as a very likeable character, as demonstrated by his work to prevent climate change, and speak out against injustice. This has been reflected in his football, too; Bellerin has been trusted as the vice-captain of the club, so is clearly someone that Mikel Arteta and his coaching staff see value in.
However, unfortunately I fundamentally don’t think Bellerin is the long-term right back for Arsenal. His seeming unwillingness to pass quickly, if at all, to his winger, has had a drastic effect on the output of certain players, most frustratingly Nicolas Pepe - who seems to have no chemistry whatsoever with Bellerin.
I see it likely that Bellerin, too, will want to part ways with the club come summer, and I think this is a move good for all parties.
Alternatively, Arsenal’s first choice right back could be Cedric Soares. Arsenal acquired the services of Southampton full back Cedric Soares on a 6-month loan deal last January to provide cover in both full back positions. When the loan deal ended, Arsenal secured Cedric’s long-term future at the club, a decision that was met with much confusion by the fanbase, some of whom viewed him as not Arsenal quality, or even labelled him a “loser”.
Although the length of contract may not be as justifiable, I would say with certainty that Cedric Soares has began to show why it was not such foolish business to bring him in at Arsenal.
The Portuguese international had to wait patiently for a chance this season, playing only five minutes in the Premier League until he was given a start at left back in mid-January against Newcastle, due to Kieran Tierney’s injury.
Since then, Cedric has played in seven of Arsenal’s last eight league fixtures, completing the full 90’ in all bar one of those appearances. And, despite a few shaky moments and one significant error leading to a goal, he has been, on the most part, a solid cover option.
What strikes me most about Cedric is his awareness of the winger ahead of him, and willingness to distribute the ball to whoever that may be as much as possible. It has been no coincidence that almost all of Pepe’s best performances so far this season have come when Cedric is the full-back supporting him.
Soares seems to have a good understanding of what he has to do to bring the best out of wingers, Pepe in particular, as he demonstrated professionally against Leicester in our last game. When he received the ball, Cedric’s first thought was to get his head up and play the ball into Pepe early- so our record signing had more time on the ball to operate and cause havoc.
This was paired with Cedric’s willingness to get up and support Pepe on the outside, allowing the Ivorian to either use him as an option, or to draw the defenders apart. Cedric and Pepe found each other 31 times against Leicester, a significant rise on any numbers between Bellerin and the winger. A clever Cedric overlap gave Pepe time to turn onto his left foot and shoot- which in turn won Arsenal the penalty to put us ahead.
Overall, whist neither Bellerin or Cedric are perfect full-backs, the key message I have to convey is that having the ability to choose between them for the starting role is a luxury that has not been possible for Arsenal in a long while and thus should not be undervalued.
My preference would be to start Cedric. He offers that element of support to his wingers that Bellerin does not- especially if it is Nicolas Pepe starting on the right. We should not persist with starting Pepe and Bellerin on the same flank again.
At the same time, I don’t think this is as simple as picking one or the other. With a hectic fixture list approaching, it will be between the two to give their absolute best and prove why they should be starting. The decision over who is viewed as first choice in that role should be based exclusively on output and no other factors, such as Bellerin’s former security in the role, should have an effect on who Arteta favours.
I am relieved to have competition in the right back position, and hope that this will only drive the standards of the two players up for the remainder of the 2020/21 campaign.