Ruben Aguilar - The Perfect Hector Bellerin Replacement for Arsenal
By Rob Worthington (Deputy Editor)
With ESPN breaking the news early last week that Hector Bellerin is set to leave Arsenal this Summer, the Gunners must commence their pursuit of a new right-back. Due to the financial impact of COVID-19, Arsenal are likely to be cash-stripped again this Summer, thus they must manipulate the market.
Arsenal mustn't look to sign a superstar, or a superstar to be, purely to put a smile on their fans' faces. The likes of Achraf Hakimi, Tariq Lamptey and Max Aarons have been touted as potential options. Also potentially expensive options. Shiny names, good players no doubt. However, Arsenal shouldn't bring in any one of them. The Gunners should sign a less sought-after right-back with superstar metrics - Ruben Aguilar.
In short, Arsenal's aim with regard to their player recruitment this Summer should be to uncover hidden gems. Aguilar certainly falls into that category. The Monaco defender has quietly established himself as one of Europe's best right-backs this season profiling superbly statistically.
I stumbled upon Aguilar a few days ago compiling a Twitter thread on players Arsenal should target as Bellerin replacements. Aguilar's profile simply fascinated me. He shines in almost every statistical category you'd want a full-back to shine in. Often, impressive statistics can fool you, but after watching some extensive footage of Aguilar, it appears there truly is a top, top player in the Frenchman.
When analysing right-backs, many, including myself, often forget that the primary job of a full-back is to defend. Aguilar can. Aguilar is reminiscent of a street fighter. He relishes the opportunity to defend 1v1. In terms of pressures, tackles, interceptions and aerial duels, he ranks as one of the best full-backs in Europe.
As you can see, Aguilar ranks in the 91st percentile or above in all 4 categories. FBref's Scouting Report feature uses statistics from Europe's Top Five leagues to rank players in each of the site's statistical categories. FBref Scouting Report divides players into different groupings depending on position. The system quite clearly recognises Aguilar as one of the best defensive full-backs in Europe. Hector Bellerin is often targeted for his poor heading ability by opponents, so it's good to see Aguilar holds his weight in aerial duels.
However, as we know, in modern football, the role of the full-back is constantly changing. It's been some time since the sole instruction for a full-back was to defend against his opposite winger. First came the overlapping full-back. Bombing past the winger in front of him. Such a role of course is still prominent, but the inverted full-back role is indeed growing in popularity too.
Hector Bellerin has operated as an inverted full-back for Arsenal at times this season. He's often been seen popping up as an extra man in Mikel Arteta's midfield, similarly to Joao Cancelo for Manchester City, with the caveat that Bellerin has been performing at a lower standard. But, Bellerin's performances have shown Arteta appears to like his full-back to be able both overlap and tuck in. Aguilar would meet such requirements with little trouble.
For a full-back, Aguilar possesses great technical quality. He's a willing ball-carrier, entering the final third with the ball at his feet over twice/90 this season for Monaco and even though his dribble success rate is low at 55% in 20/21 so far, it shows a desire and ability on his part to beat his opposite man. In his final season with Montpelier, 18/19, he dribbled past an opponent twice a game on average.
Aguilar's only obvious limitation in this regard is his ability to progress play. Due to the quasi-midfielding aspect of the inverted full-back's job, the necessity for a full-back to be able to step into the engine room and play incisive passing increases. The Frenchman's relatively poor return in this regard could of course be a product of the system he operates in, but it does look like something he'd have to work on if he were to join Arsenal.
Yet, on a brighter note, the 26-year-old's attacking capabilities haven't even been mentioned yet. You'll likely be pleased to hear that this is yet another area Aguilar excels in. In terms of chance creation, he has profiled as one of Europe's best full-backs this year.
Most notable is his goal creating action (GCA) stat. 0.35 GCA/90. On average, he helps Monaco to produce a goal every 3 games. Given how poor Arsenal have been this season, another creative source would be more than welcomed by Mikel Arteta. Aguilar would indeed offer that.
Of course, no player is perfect. Aguilar's 1.24 blocks/90 infer he may not be the best player at closing down crosses and his goal threat is notably lower than most of Europe's left-backs. Nevertheless, given how impressive the majority of his attributes are in comparison to other wide defenders in the Top Five leagues, shortcomings in certain areas can be excused.
Certain voices have also raised questions over his age profile. If Arsenal were to sign Aguilar this Summer, the right-back would be 27-years-old at that stage. However, one must recognise that the Frenchman is in his prime. You immediately improve your team by signing players in their prime, youngsters bring about gradual improvement.
Arsenal have such an unbalanced squad at the moment in terms of age profiles. Plenty of youngsters, plenty of senior options, few players in their prime. The Technical team at London Colney should not be detracted by Aguilar's age, in fact, quite the opposite, it should be an attractive feature. Arsenal would be signing a player currently playing his best football.
Furthermore, the Gunners would be capturing the signature of a player with a clean medical record. Since the 2014-15 season, Aguilar has made no fewer than 19 appearances per season. He's a player who can be relied upon to play a lot of football.
Video compilations can often be misleading and shouldn't be relied upon to make a judgement of a player, but here's a flavour of what Aguilar has offered to Monaco this season with thanks MuneguComps for the video.
With Edu declaring last Summer that going forward Arsenal will be using data drawn from StatDNA to pick out targets, it'd be criminal if the club failed to consider Ruben Aguilar. He's a player of relatively low status in European football which enhances the notion that Arsenal could be able to get him on the cheap.
Ruben Aguilar - the Perfect Hector Bellerin replacement for Arsenal.
All stats courtesy of the brilliant FBref.