Héctor Bellerin, Arsenal’s first-choice right back, was ruled out until beyond November following an ankle injury in the North London derby draw with Tottenham. This news came as a blow to Gunners fans, with the meteoric rise of the young Spaniard being one of the most exciting stories of their past two seasons. Arsenal have played three matches during his absence thus far, coming in both the Premier League and Champions League. How have his replacements fared?
Carl Jenkinson played 83 minutes in a 1-1 tie against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Jenkinson, 24, played at West Ham United on a season-long loan last year. His performances were praised, as he made 20 appearances for the Hammers in the first half of the season. Sadly he then suffered an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament, thus ending his season in mid-January. Jenkinson was always likely to come under the spotlight and against Man U, playing what was only his second match of the season since returning to the Gunners.
His performance was described as nervy by many, with movement that displayed glimpses of hesitance, a common occurrence after a severe knee injury. Despite this, he was able to rise to the challenge of defending against Anthony Martial, who’s only threatening contribution was a curled effort struck straight at Peter Cech before the half. Offensively Jenkinson shone, putting in a pair of well-placed crosses either side of half time. Jenkinson was replaced in the 83rd minute by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who put in the assist for Arsenal to draw level in the 89th minute with an Olivier Giroud goal. All in all it was a promising start to Jenkinson’s deployment in the role.
However Jenkinson had a poorer showing in the Champions League clash against French opponents Paris Saint-Germain on November 23rd. Positionally at fault for PSG’s first goal, he was caught in no-man’s land as Thiago Motta played a through ball for Blaise Matuidi, who assisted for Edison Cavani’s goal. Despite this, he contributed offensively in the 2nd half when putting in a low cross that was deflected off a series of PSG defenders before eventually leading to a Marco Verratti own goal. This was followed by another poor moment, where Jenkinson was at fault again for the second PSG goal. Losing a header at the back post to Lucas Moura from a Hatem Ben Arfa corner led to an own goal for his side. Given what could only be described as an unfortunate if not lacklustre display, he was substituted after 80 minutes for Theo Walcott.
Mathieu Debuchy earned his first start of the season in a 3-1 victory against Bournemouth at the weekend. Originally bought as a replacement for Bacary Sagna following the latter’s departure to Manchester City at the end of the 2013-14 season, Debuchy found himself eclipsed by Bellerin’s sudden rise. Generally seen as a good signing from Newcastle United, Debuchy has never really risen to the level of initial expectations. Following ankle and shoulder injuries, the French international seemed a shadow of his former self. Seeking a return to the playing arena, Debuchy played nine matches last season for Bordeaux in a short-term loan.
Against Bournemouth, Debuchy started the match brightly, blocking a Brad Smith cross with a sliding tackle and keeping Junior Stanislas subdued. Yet sadly the history of injuries returned to haunt him and Arsenal quickly. For he was stretchered off in the 16th minute after suffering a hamstring injury, with Gabriel Paulista coming on to deputise at right-back for the remainder of the contest.
Given the unpredictable defensive displays of Jenkinson and Debuchy’s inability to stay healthy, Héctor Bellerin cannot come back soon enough for Gunners fans. Despite his recovery progressing well according to the latest reports, Bellerin will still not make his way back into the side for at least another month. With Debuchy injured again and Jenkinson’s shaky performances, we could well see Gabriel filling in at right back until around the Christmas period. Naturally a centre back, it remains to be seen whether the Brazilian is able to cover any more effectively than either Jenkinson or Debuchy. And how will Arsenal fare defensively without their young star; both against West Ham this weekend, and through the many fixtures to follow?