Arsenal loanee Cedric Soares is finally fit and available for selection. Can the Southampton right-back challenge Hector Bellerin for the starting role?
Hector Bellerin has been Arsenal’s long-term starting option at right-back ever since he snatched the job from Mathieu Debuchy. When fit, the Spaniard has justified the inclusion, performing electrically. However, even when he has been available, he has not always been fully fit, robbing him of his best form.
Take this season as an example. Bellerin returned from an ACL tear midway through the campaign and has since seven of the last eight Premier League matches. He has not been fully fit in any of them, looking short of his true speed, playing through a groin issue prior to lockdown.
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Because of his fitness problems, and the subsequent drop in form as a result, there are growing questions regarding his place in the team. Should he be considered an automatic starter as he has been for much of his north London tenure?
For the most part, Arsenal have had no other options at the positions. Ainsley Maitland-Niles does not consider himself to be a right-back, Stephan Lichtsteiner was nothing more than a reserve, either.
Then Cedric Soares arrived in January. It was initially believed that Cedric was only signed as a short-term back-up to Bellerin. Arsenal desperately needed a right-back and had little financial ability to sign one. Cedric was available, had experience of the Premier League, and was relatively cheap, all things considered. However, could it be that Cedric could actually challenge Bellerin for the starting role?
Certainly, if Mikel Arteta’s recent comments are anything to go by, he could. Cedric signed a four-year permanent deal last week. Given that he has not yet played for the club, the decision was largely criticised. But Arteta is a huge believer in Cedric’s ability, as he expressed this week. Speaking in his pre-match press conference ahead of Wednesday’s match against Norwich City, Arteta said:
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“He’s a different quality in the full-back area than what we have. He’s a gifted, technical player and is probably the best we have in the final third to make the right decision and attack the box as well. He can play in a four or a five, he’s a really good player with experience in the Premier League that can help us.”
Arteta has also been extremely committed to Bellerin and it would be ludicrous to think that an average Southampton player would immediately unseat a Spanish international without playing a single minute for his new team. Nevertheless, Bellerin’s performances have been inconsistent as he has struggled to adapt to Arteta’s more ‘technical’ right-back role.
It could yet be that Cedric fits into the system a little more cohesively than Bellerin. And if that is the case, he could yet challenge for the starting role.