Whilst Arsenal have strengthened almost every other area in the team during the last twelve months or so, the full backs were left standing. And quite rightly so, as we have some of the finest full backs in the country and they fit nicely into the style of play of the team.
Full backs at Arsenal are really more wing backs than anything else. They have a massive responsibility within the team both in defence, midfield and attack. On the left we have the energetic and tenacious Nacho Monreal, and on the right we have speed machine and excellent recoverer, Bellerin. As back up we have the loyal and ‘safe pair of hands’ Gibbs and the experienced Debuchy, and Jenkinson is also getting closer to a return to the team.
We all know about the defensive responsibilities of a full back but Arsenal now also rely on them heavily to provide width and penetration from the wings. The traditional winger seems to be a dying breed as more and more teams prefer a hybrid between a midfielder and attacker to play close to the nr10 and CF. Good wing backs are hard to find as the total package requires a lot of skills.
With Bellerin we probably have the most talented wing back in the country and I am pleased the club were able to hold on to him this season. There is no doubt that he can still learn a few things, but he has the rare ability to combine very fast running and close ball control with a cool head both when he attacks and defends. He reads the game very well for such a young player and therefore is often in the right place at the right time.
With Nacho we have a player who gets better the more he plays, a bit like Ramsey in a way. Once he gets properly going Monreal is awesome and a very important player for the team. He has great drive and determination to win and usually finds a very good balance between defending and attacking. It is fair to say that Nacho has also been part of our recent failure to secure our left side of the defence, which was so cruelly exposed against Pool during the season’s opener for example. But I reckon that the team will get this right and Monreal will play a key part in doing so.
The one area that needs a step improvement is the final ball into the box by our full backs. Not that they do badly. Monreal and Bellerin both played 36 PL games (!!!) and the former had a total of three assists and averages 0.8 key passes per PL game, whilst the latter had five assists and 0.7 key passes per game, and he also managed to score once. Debuchy did not play last season so no stats available for him, but Kieran had 15 PL games (only three starts), had no assists and only 0.1 key passes per game, but he did manage to score a goal for us in the PL last season (as well as in the CL).
It is pretty amazing that Bellerin, who will be ‘only’ 21 till March next year, managed to play so many games in such a physically and mentally demanding position last season. And the same goes for Nacho who is slowly entering the autumn years of his football career but still managed to play 36 PL games.
I love these Spanish bullfighters and let’s hope they can play a key role in our season once again. And if they can get the final ball into the box just that little bit sharper, we should see even more key passes, assists and goals from our full backs. If we want to win the title than this is one of the key improvements required, and I reckon they can deliver it.
Bring it on!