Why this summer could be the right time for Hector Bellerin to leave Arsenal

News filtered through yesterday that this season could be the last for Hector Bellerin – with the right back having come to an agreement last summer with Mikel Arteta that he would be free to leave the club in 2021.

I love Hector, but this summer feels like the right time to for him and Arsenal to part ways.

Bellerin left Barcelona to join Arsenal at just 16-years-old, moving to London and developing a Cockney-Spanish accent as a result.

A loan spell at Watford showed his talent and his career looked to be on an upwards path following Matthieu Debuchy’s injury.

Pretty much an ever-present for 3 years, he picked up a horrible ACL injury against Chelsea in early 2019 and has never really recovered.

That injury seemed to take half a yard of pace off him – crucial as he was not the best defender positionally and relied on a burst of pace to beat a man in attack. He has not looked the same player since his return.

Bellerin has come in for criticism for his off the field interests.

I am not sure why liking fashion, being a vegan and caring about the environment led him to come in for so much criticism.

It is actually refreshing to have a player that is clearly an intelligent young man, taking a keen interest in politics (whether you agree with those politics or not) and fashion.

Maybe some fans were threatened by his intelligence? After all, it was Bellerin who was invited to speak at Oxford University whilst they can barely get a coherent word out on Twitter or their YouTube channels.

I would much rather my players take a keen interest in politics and fashion rather then be falling out of night clubs at 2am, pissed as a fart; or lacking so much intelligence that they would be unable to answer the first question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

And why they criticised him for his veganism and caring for the environment baffles me further.

They seemed to associate his veganism with his fitness issues. But Novak Djokovic has just won yet another grand-slam on a plant based diet.

Removing gluten, diary and meat from his diet saw Djokovic’s fitness improve; and since he made the change has gone on to become one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

If you have not watched the Netflix documentary The Game Changers I would advise you to do so.

And then we have the environmental campaigning.

Again, I would much prefer to have a multi dimensional player like Bellerin talking about climate change rather than a player who can barely give a coherent interview.

The likes of Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford have been heavily praised in the media for what they have done outside of football. Speaking out against racism, poverty and other subjects. Intelligent young men.

Bellerin is in the same camp.

Imagine criticising a player because he promoted a charity that plants trees.

We at She Wore supported his drive and donated to One Tree Planted. In the end Hector raised enough to plant 58,617 trees.

Instead of backing the campaign, we saw YouTubers charging £5 a time for people to pay them to have a tweet read out. The fact they failed to join the donation drive shows how hard up they are!

It is probably the right time for Bellerin to leave.

Since his injury he has stagnated; a move away could get his career moving forward again – a fresh challenge.

Whilst for Arsenal, he has become a weak link on that right hand side.

At this point in his career, Bellerin perhaps needs that new challenge.

You came to London as a 16-year-old boy and you have grown into a well rounded, intelligent, multi dimensional young man.

I am sure over the years you have developed thick skin due to those that abuse, and they will celebrate you leaving in their bed sits in Spain, Luton, Barking, Wood Green or America.

But you have achieved more in life, influenced more people, at 25-years-old than these people will in their lifetime.

Bellerin is a positive influence on the world; promoting his causes, his passions.

So Hector, if this is your last season with us, thanks for the last 7 seasons.

Keenos

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Arsenal Avoid Another Greek Tragedy as Aubameyang Saves the Day

Heading into Thursday night’s second leg match against Benfica, Arsenal fans were all too aware of the dangers involved in taking supposedly inferior opposition lightly. 

Last year’s exit against Olympiacos wasn’t so much an upset as a shock of seismic proportions that stunned the club and its supporters to the core. Consequently, it was fitting that, 12 months on, Arsenal atoned for that fateful night in the stadium of the side who knocked them out of the Europa League last term. 

A battling Benfica side featuring a host of recognisable names including Jan Vertonghen, Adel Taarabt and Nicolas Otamendi made life difficult for Mikel Arteta’s men, but theymade far harder work of the tie themselves through a collective failure to banish basic errors from their game.

Now Thursday night regulars, nervy nights in the second tier of European competition have become almost commonplace for Arsenal fans. Benfica, who are in danger of finishing outside the top three in Portugal’s domestic league for the first time in 13 seasons, are not the continental force of yesteryear. As fondly as the team that won successive European Cups in the early 1960s will be remembered, this version of OsEncarnados is nowhere near the level of Eusebio and co. The Gunners should have sauntered through to the last 16 butsuffered a severe case of stage fright under the evening spotlight. 

A howler of a missed header from Dani Ceballos, who backpedalled so perilously in jumping for the ball that he ended up doing a perfect impression of Michael Jackson’s moonwalk, allowed Rafa Silva to stroll the ball into an empty net. Arsenal now needed to score twice to advance. Kieran Tierney fired an effort into the far corner to give them hope, but another tragic exit was a mere three minutes away. 

Cue the centre stage arrival of protagonist Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. 

Guilty of missing chances that were gilt-edged in Rome a week ago, the skipper made amends for a poor performance at the Olimpico, when he rose highest to head home a ball from the ever-lively Bukayo Saka. Of course, with it being a game involving Arsenal, there was time for one more act in a frantic finale. In the 92nd minute, the ball crashed against Bernd Leno’s post and Gooners who did not swallow their tongue in fright, let out an exasperated sigh of relief.

Arteta’s side showed grit, fight and resolve in rallying from behind to snatch the tie yet, as promising as it is to see Arsenal win in a steely fashion, it should not detract from other problems that have become apparent. 

Conceding twice to Benfica means a sixth successive game without a clean sheet for the men in red and white. A lack of solidity at the back must be addressed with Leicester, Tottenham and Liverpool to come in the Premier League. At the other end of the park, Arsenal were clinical in Athens, scoring three times from five shots on target. However, an xG (expected goals) of just 2.55 over two legs versus Benfica demonstrates lingering deficiencies in chance creation that need to be tackled. 

Over-playing the aforementioned Saka is another issue Arteta must be wary of. He is, without doubt, Arsenal’s most dynamic and unpredictable attacking threat, so adept is he at driving into space with the ball from midfield or, as he did for Aubameyang, putting it on a plate for team-mates to finish. Despite his importance to this team, Saka is still just 19 years of age and must not be played into the ground whilst still developing. 

Arteta has previously called for Nicolas Pepe to perform more consistently, something the Ivorian may be able to achieve were he to regularly appear in the starting line-up. The return of Gabriel Martinelli provides another handy rotational option, as he is capable of filling across the front three. Whatever the Arsenal manager’s personal policy on rotation is, he cannot afford to neglect it, particularly if the north Londoners are to progress further in the Europa League off the back of a morale-boosting victory in Greece. 

Naturally, for a side that finds itself in mid-table, there are issues and imperfections that require ironing if Arsenal are to qualify for Europe through the league. And yet, a 

topsy-turvy tie that ended in progression this time round serves as an example for Arteta and Arsenal. An example which demonstrates that, if application levels are high, all is not lost in what remains of this strange season.

Zac Campbell

Match Report: Arsenal 3 -2 Benfica

Arsenal (1) 3 SL Benfica (1) 2

(Arsenal won 4-3 on aggregate)

UEFA Europa League, Round of 32, Leg 2 of 2

Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis, Piraeus 185 47, Attica, Athens, Greece

Thursday, 25th February 2021. Kick-off time: 5.55pm

(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Hector Bellerin, David Luiz, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Dani Ceballos, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, Emile Smith-Rowe; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Substitutes: Alexandre Lacazette, Willian Borges da Silva, Cédric Soares, Thomas Partey, Nicolas Pépé, Calum Chambers, Pablo Marí, Mohamed Elneny, Eddie Nketiah, Mat Ryan,Gabriel Martinelli, Karl Hein.

Scorers: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (21 mins, 87 mins), Kieran Tierney (67 mins)

Arsenal Possession Percentage: 53%

Referee: Björn Kuipers (Netherlands)

Assistant Referees: Sander van Roekel (Netherlands), Erwin Zeinstra (Netherlands)

Fourth Official: Danny Makkelie (Netherlands)

Referee Observer: Georgios Bikas (Greece)

VAR Team (UEFA): VAR Pol van Boekel (Netherlands); AVAR Rob Dieperink (Netherlands)

Attendance: A minimal amount of attendees (circa 3,000) due to coronavirus restrictions

Make no mistake about it, tonight’s match may as well be a cup final, with all the importance that such a game carries for us at this point in the season. We have to be victorious, in order for the team to have a chance to progress into the Champions League next season, because if we fail, it will make things extremely difficult for us, as our Premiership form does not (at the moment), suggest a top four finish in May. With regards to team news for the game, Rob Holding has not travelled to Greece because of UEFA/Premier League concussion protocols after his head injury suffered in Sunday’s match against Manchester City, whilst midfielder Thomas Partey had a late fitness check after a hamstring injury, and is on the substitutes’ bench tonight. Let’s go!

Although Benfica pinned us back into our own half in the early stages of the match, we managed to get a grip and started to push the ball around a bit, particularly out on the wings where the visitors seemed to be vulnerable. Just on quarter of an hour, Kieran Tierney made a spirited charge down the flank, but he was prevented from advancing any further when defender Ferreira Silva won the ball with a sliding challenge. Martin Ødegaard and Bukayo Saka were linking up well in the central areas, (which is where we miss Thomas Partey at times like this), and it looked like a matter of time before we found a way through the Benfica defence. And sure enough, young Bukayo Saka pushed a inch-perfect pass through the Benfica defence, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ran on to it and chipped a beautiful ball over Benfica goalkeeper Helton Leite to open the scoring after just twenty-one minutes. We started to get the wind in our sails now, and a few minutes later, Dani Ceballos tried to extend our lead as he hit a ball from the edge of the penalty area but his shot was parried away by the Benfica goalie for an Arsenal corner. Although there was a bit of a heartstopping moment when former Tottenham Hotspur defender Jan Vertonghen outjumped David Luiz and headed a ball over the bar from a free kick after thirty-five minutes, overall, we looked to be the more confident side at this point in the game. Five minutes before the break, Bukayo Saka ran onto a ball from Emile Smith-Rowe, and his neat shot went just past the Benfica post. Completely against the run of play, two minutes before half-time, we gave away a sloppy free-kick just outside the penalty area. Cupido Goncalves stepped up and hit a perfect ball into the back of our net past the outstretched arm of Bernd Leno to equalise the scores going into the break.

Despite some tough play at the beginning of the second half, four minutes after the break we found a way through the Benfica defence for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to score a seemingly perfect goal, only to find it was chalked off for offside. This incident merely served to fire us up, and we were then playing a high-line, pushing Benfica well back into their own half, almost near to the penalty area for large periods of the game. On the hour, the nightmare happened. From a Martin Ødegaard corner, in a classic smash’n’grab movement, goalkeeper Helton Leite grabbed the ball out of the air, and launched it down the field and Dani Ceballos, being the last man, attempted a header back, but it fell short, sadly. Ferreira Silva quickly ran on to it, touched it past Bernd Leno and walked the ball into the net. Absolute disaster. Almost immediately, Dani Ceballos and Emile Smith-Rowe were replaced by Willian and (at last) Thomas Partey. The effect was almost instant, as new boy on the pitch Willian found himself free down the left wing, pulled the ball back for Kieran Tierney, who composed himself and expertly drilled an unstoppable shot into the corner of the net. With thirteen minutes of the match remaining, Hector Bellerin was replaced by Alexandre Lacazette for a final push to grab more goals, which we desperately needed, because at that moment we were going out of the competition on the away goals rule. It was now becoming obvious that Benfica were just running down the clock as they were quite happy (obviously) to do so. When we did win the ball, and started advancing towards their goal, all they had to do was to get ten men behind the ball and slow everything up. Incredibly, with three minutes left of the match, somebody up there liked us, when Bukayo Saka hooked the ball over beautifully from the left, which went beyond the goalkeeper, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang headed the ball into an empty net! Despite a VAR check, in which everyone’s hearts was in their mouths, the goal was given, and we were ahead. Mikel Arteta replaced Martin Ødegaard and Bukayo Saka for Calum Chambers and Mohamed Elneny to shore things up at the back, which worked perfectly, as minutes later, the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the match, with Arsenal in the draw for the last sixteen of the Europa League tomorrow.

Now that we have all put our collective hearts back into our quivering chests, this was a memorable night for everyone involved with the club. Yes, it could have gone badly wrong, but it never did, thanks to the collective sheer guts of this group of players, their never-say-die attitude and desire to win. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang got his shooting boots back on, Bukayo Saka is growing into a fantastic footballer with a natural ability for finding space when there does not seem to be any, and Kieran Tierney must surely be, currently, one of the best two or three left-backs in the world. We may have only got five shots on target, but hey, three of them were goals; and this group of players are growing together in stature and class. Believe me, the best is yet to come from this group of players.

Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Leicester City at King Power Stadium on Sunday, 28th February at noon (Premier League). Victoria Concordia Crescit.

Steve

Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.