When Unai Emery arrived at the Arsenal his appointment was greeted with great optimism. The hope was that Emery would turn around a team who had been underachieving, bring in his own men, move on the ‘deadwood’ and get the best out of the few players with the potential to develop.
One of those with undeniable potential is Hector Bellerin, the Spaniard arrived in North London as a youth player having previously played at Barcelona and established himself as the teams first choice right back.
Bellerin initially showed great promise but I think it's fair to say during the 2017-18 season we were beginning to see signs of stagnation. His explosive pace and valuable contribution to the team as an attacking force were a real asset but at times his defending left a lot to be desired for.
One of Arsenal’s biggest problems last season was the lack of width within the squad and Emery’s over-reliance on the full-backs to provide that left us defensively exposed countless times.
Whether you agree or disagree with Unai’s approach it’s clear Hector Bellerin was accurately following his manager's instructions.
His energetic performances on the right-hand side saw him register 5 assists in his 19 league appearances and just when you thought we were starting to see the best of Bellerin he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee and was ruled out for six to nine months.
Bellerin’s absence proved costly
The Spaniard's injury was a huge blow to the squad and to Unai’s plans for the remainder of the campaign, especially after having lost Rob Holding for the season approximately one month prior. Hector was sorely missed, with Stephan Lichtsteiner unable to step in and perform to the level required Emery turned to Ainsley Maitland-Niles, a young midfielder by trade who had filled in as a full back under Arsene Wenger.
Arsenal’s defensive issues run far deeper than just the right back position but being without Bellerin certainly played its part. However, it’s Bellerin’s off the field influence that has led to many calling for him to be named as the clubs new captain.
His love for fashion and flamboyant style has been highlighted in the media, mocked even by football fans up and down the country but his willingness to speak out regarding important issues such as mental health, climate change and racism is what we should be discussing.
A footballer using his influence on social media to do good should be applauded. In a week where Manchester United star Jesse Lingard has been ridiculed for uploading inappropriate videos of his friends on holiday Bellerin’s conduct deserves even more credit.
The way the 24-year-old carries himself is exemplary and I’m proud to say he represents the Arsenal.
So we’ve established Bellerin is a leader off the field but has he got what it takes to wear the armband and lead this group to success on it?
Captains of yesteryear
When you think of the great Arsenal captains Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira instantly spring to mind. Two extremely tough characters, natural born leaders ready to do battle week in week out for the cause and no strangers to physical confrontation.
The reality is, times have changed and often club captains are selected based on their public image and marketability.
The tough-tackling, seemingly angry and no-nonsense captains of yesteryear are a dying breed. The role of club captain has slowly been devalued in recent years and Unai’s decision to name ‘five-captains’ at the start of this season reinforced that point.
There’s no reason why Bellerin shouldn't be regarded as one of the team's leaders given he's been with the club since 2011, knows the culture inside out and has represented the club well off the field but handing him the armband exclusively would be premature.
You get the feeling Bellerin’s ceiling is higher than the level at which he's performed over the last couple of seasons. The priority for him and the club should be to carefully manage his return to fitness and the added burden of the captaincy would only increase the pressure on the young man.
Perhaps a future Arsenal captain but during a time of great transition experience and steel are key therefore it’s a struggle to make Bellerin the number one candidate.