Thursday 22 February 2018

Bellerin is ready to step up - Wenger

Arsenal's Hector Bellerin. Photo: PA
Arsenal's Hector Bellerin. Photo: PA

Luke Brown

Arsene Wenger has insisted that Hector Bellerin is the perfect replacement for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at right wing-back after the England international limped off during the first half of Arsenal's win over Southampton with a hamstring injury.

Oxlade-Chamberlain has impressed in the position ever since Arsene Wenger switched to a 3-4-2-1 formation for the 2-1 away victory against Middlesbrough last month.

The 23-year-old started strongly against Southampton - almost creating the opening goal when he darted in from the wing and played in Aaron Ramsey - but collapsed to the turf and signaled to the bench that he was unable to continue, shortly before the interval.

Wenger replaced him with Bellerin, a player more accustomed to playing at full-back in a flat-back four. But the Spaniard did well in the more offensive position, with Wenger confident that he can adeptly fill in for Oxlade-Chamberlain for as long as he is injured.

"Yes he is [a natural replacement], he is an offensive player," Wenger commented. "He started as a right midfielder and we transformed him into a full-back."

Bellerin has dropped out of Arsenal's starting XI since he was angrily jeered by Arsenal supporters after walking to applaud them at the end of the club's chastising 3-0 defeat at Selhurst Park at the beginning of April.

The 22-year-old was also taunted with chants of "You're not fit to wear the shirt" when he walked near to the travelling fans to take a throw-in, with Wenger picking the player to start only one game since: the narrow 1-0 victory over Leicester at the Emirates.

But Wenger refuted suggestions that the taunts had damaged his confidence.

"Look, he's a player who has a fantastic mentality," Wenger said.

"He went through a difficult period when he came back from his ankle injury, but I never questioned his attitude. He has great spirit."

Wenger also hinted Bellerin would return to the starting line-up for tomorrow's match against Stoke, with Arsenal required to take all three points to keep their slim hopes of finishing in the top four alive.

"I may need to make some changes," the manager admitted. "Bellerin is quite fresh. And Koscielny has a small chance, he is not far. He practised on Tuesday.

"We have to show the character again. We have to play to win the games. Let's keep the focus on the way we want to play, on our team spirit. The team is together and fights and is ready for it.

"Now we have to recover physically and see how everyone recovers for Saturday." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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