Who should replace Héctor Bellerín at Arsenal?
Héctor Bellerín has been a mainstay of the Arsenal defence for over six years now.
Initially deputising for Mathieu Debuchy before eventually displacing the Frenchman as the club's starting right-back, Bellerín's rise from wannabe winger to the Gunners' dependable fullback was a meteoric one. He even earned a spot in the PFA Premier League Team of the Season for his consistent performances during the 2015/16 season, despite being just 21 at the time. The Spaniard was one of the first names on the team-sheet during Arsène Wenger's final years, starting in two FA Cup final victories before the legendary French manager departed.
Life under the new coach, Unai Emery, started in a similar vein, as Bellerín collected five Premier League assists in the first half of the 2018/19 season. He profited from Emery's reliance on his full-backs for creativity, and the Spanish international was allowed to venture forward to deliver cutbacks to his team-mates in the box.
This development faltered, however, as he was dealt a monumental blow in January 2019, suffering an ACL injury against Chelsea - a setback that kept him sidelined for eight months.
Since returning to the side, Bellerín has never quite looked the same. He was even dropped for a period during the first few months of Mikel Arteta's reign as Arsenal coach, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles preferred on the right-side of defence. The La Masia graduate has delivered the occasional flash of brilliance this season, but his pace seems to have waned and his ability on the ball is noticeably worse. With interest allegedly surfacing from French giants PSG it might be time to cash in on Bellerín and replace him with an exciting modern-day full-back...
But who should the Gunners opt for?
The Defensive Option - Matty Cash
Matty Cash has been a revelation since signing for Aston Villa just six months ago. The Englishman has delivered consistent performances for Dean Smith's side, helping propel them to their current 8th position in the Premier League - even more impressive when you consider they have two games in hand on a number of the teams surrounding them.
Cash is an incredibly accomplished defender, ranking extremely high in several key defensive metrics, including interceptions, blocks and clearances. His defensive attributes would offer a considerable upgrade to those of Bellerín, who has struggled against a number of left-wingers this season.
The former Nottingham Forest man is quick off the mark, strong in the tackle and more than capable in the air. Cash also possesses considerable technical ability with his long-range shooting and crossing from the right-flank both noticeably effective. However, his ability on the ball can sometimes leave a lot to be desired.
His ability at taking players on isn't any better than Bellerín and his progressive passing is probably worse than the Spaniard's. Despite his attacking limitations, he would definitely make for a sensible signing if Bellerín was to leave, and at just 23-years-old Cash has plenty of room to grow into a fine full-back.
The Attacking Option - Tariq Lamptey
Lamptey is possibly the best right-back in the league when it comes to attacking threat and ability on the ball. The former Chelsea man possesses an incredibly low centre of gravity, using his elite balance to glide past opposition players at will.
Lamptey is fearless, playing with the freedom that Arsenal starlet Bukayo Saka possesses. The England under-21 international is also efficient when taking players on, ranking much higher than Bellerín or Cash in attacking metrics, including progressive passes, dribbling statistics and shot-creating actions.
Nevertheless, his attacking exploits do come at the cost of defensive stability. Lamptey is just 5 ft 5 in (164cm), meaning that he can be targeted by powerful forwards. His slight frame makes him quite weak in the tackle too, often getting beaten by wingers who take him on.
At just 20-years-old Lamptey will continue to improve in all aspects of his game, particularly on the defensive side.
The All-Rounder - Ruben Aguilar
Monaco's Ruben Aguillar may not be as well known to Premier League fans as the aforementioned options, but he is perhaps the best option of them all.
Aguilar has been one of Europe's best right-backs this season, consistently performing to a world-class level for a Monaco side that are firmly in the Ligue 1 title race, sitting just six points behind leaders Lille.
The Frenchman is perhaps not as quick as Lamptey; but he is a more than capable athlete, often utilising his very good engine to burst forward down the right-side, delivering perfectly-weighted crosses into the box. Much like former-French Gunner Bacary Sagna, Aguilar is a steady performer, working extremely hard in all facets of the game and rarely letting his team down.
His ability in progressing the ball forwards is particularly notable, often finding team-mates between the lines or providing through-balls to right-wingers. This tendency to look forward means he could form a deadly partnership with Bukayo Saka down the right-flank if he were to move to the Emirates.
It is not just on the offensive front that Aguilar excels; he is also extremely accomplished defensively. The 27-year-old gets tight to opposition left-wingers, often pressuring them into making a mistake. He is also extremely composed, with a good football brain to read the game. This can be illustrated through his elite ranking for interception and tackling metrics.
Aguilar also boasts tactical versatility similar to Arsenal's Maitland-Niles. His ability to play as an inverted full-back, or as a more orthodox right-back would give Mikel Arteta plenty of much-needed tactical leeway.
His performances for Monaco this season earned him his first cap for the France national team in November of last year and if he continues to perform at his current level he will likely be included in their European Championships squad this summer.
Here they are, compared:
For attacking and passing:
And more defensive stats:
All stats from fbref.com
So - who should we go for? That's up to Edu and Arteta to decide.
As for my pick, I'm going for Ruben Aguilar.
Thanks for reading!
- Aaron Catterson-Reid (@ReidTheGame)