There has not yet been official news out over the state of Hector Bellerin’s injury. Post match, Unai Emery described it as “not positive on first impression”.
From my years of watching football, it is safe to say that the Spanish right back will be out for the season.
It was one of those injuries where no one is near him, it was innocuous. The referee stopped play straight away and it was clear it was something serious. Whether is is an ACL injury or some other injury that we will now all pretend to be experts in, he will be out for some time. He might not return the same player.
With 10 days to go in the transfer window, Emery and the management team have a decision to be made.
Do they attempt to bring someone in, or do they replace from within?
The experienced right back was bought in to cover Hector Bellerin in case he got injured and has already started 13 games this season. It looks like father time has caught up on the serial winner.
He has been fairly average when playing. Some would be a lot harsher than that – although his worst performances have come when playing out of position in the centre of defence.
I doubt he will be with us next season, however he might find himself with a role to play this.
Will be the choice if we go for experience.
Against West Ham, Maitland-Niles was at right wing back ahead of Lichtsteiner. Although he was substituted on the half hour for Bellerin.
Whilst the utility man might see his future as a winger, and some fans see him as a central midfielder, it is at full back where he has started the vast majority of his games for Arsenal.
Of his 23 starts for Arsenal i neither the Premier League or Europa League, 19 have come at full back (14 at left back). His future at the club could well be as a full back.
Last season he was picked ahead of both Saed Kolasinac and Nacho Monreal at left back, such was his good form.
He has been out of form this season, but that is a lot to do with a lack of consistency in playing position.
Maitland-Niles certainly has the physical attributes to play at full back, he has pace and power and the engine to get up and down. He would also provide us the attacking outlet that the side relies on – our full backs are our width.
Defensive naivety is the concern.
He can switch off, or jog back when caught up the field. Although this is not unusual for a young full back.
Given the opportunity to play consistently at right back, his defensive instincts will naturally improve. He will also have Sokratis inside him and – if we stick to the mdifield 3 who started against Chelsea – Lucas Torreira ahead.
If Maitland-Niles gets the chance, and proves himself to be adequate cover for Bellerin, it would mean we would not need to go out into the market in the summer to buy cover for Bellerin. The Englishman could step up as his long term understudy.
One of the criticisms of Maitland-Niles is “he is not a right back”. This line of thinking would lead some to support Carl Jenkinson starting.
It is incredible to think that Jenkinson turns 27 in February. He is certainly living the dream. But is living the dream enough?
He is certainly not a bad player – and it is easy to forget that he spent a year and a half at West Ham playing consistently at right back.
A bit like Maitland-Niles, if he gets a chance and takes it, the club may well decide that he is an adequate mid-term back up for Bellerin.
Personally I think he has had his chance, and it is time for someone else to get one.
If we are going to “give someone a chance” I would rather it be the younger man in Maitland-Niles.
If I say we had a World Cup winning right back in our squad, you would probably ask “who?”. that man is German international Shkodran Mustafi.
Back in 2014, he was selected to start at right back in Germany’s round of 16 match against Algeria. It was only an injury that stopped him seeing out the tournament as Germany’s first choice full back.
Mustafi could do a job at right back, like he has done numerous times throughout his career. He would provide decent defensive cover, over and above anyone else on this list. However he will not provide any attacking threat.
At Arsenal, it is the full backs that give us the width. With no recognised wingers, playing Mustafi at right back would give us little to no threat on the right hand side.
The last candidate is a new signing.
Whether it be a loan signing or a permanent signing, we would have 10 days to go out into the transfer market and secure someone.
The problem is who would we secure?
Someone on loan would likely not be playing at the club they are at. If they are not playing at AC Milan, Roma or whoever, would they then be a better option than Maitland-Niles? And would a top club in Europe, chasing a Champions League place, really want to loan out their second choice right back?
The alternative option is signing someone on a permanent deal, but who?
Do we go for someone who could be long term understudy for Bellerin? And if so how much should we invest in them – Aaron Wan-Bissaka would be north of £20m. Or do we go big. Go for someone better than Bellerin who will actually be his long term replacement. But is spending £35m+ on a right back sensible when we have so many other positions to upgrade on.