Arsenal confirmed via their official website on Tuesday that Hector Belllerin sustained an ACL tear in their match against Chelsea last weekend, meaning the Spaniard is ruled out until next season – gutting news for both the player and Unai Emery, who may now be forced to stray away from what looks like a winning formula.
Bellerin went down in pain unchallenged in the second half of the Gunners’ 2-0 victory over their London rivals and was stretchered off. The damage to his knee will require surgery in the coming days before the 23-year-old can begin a long, difficult rehabilitation process.
While Emery may not be exactly short of options at right-back – Stephan Lichtsteiner, Carl Jenkinson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles can all deputise there – Bellerin’s pace is a commodity in Arsenal’s defence that cannot be replaced.
Emery did everything right in terms of tactics and team selection against the Blues and would be hard pushed to find a reason to change things around next time out. However he may now be forced to, as the system will struggle without the legs of Bellerin.
The decision to opt for a 4-3-1-2 caught many off guard, but pairing Alexandre Lacazette up front with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and playing Aaron Ramsey behind them has seen success before – most notably in the 4-2 win over Spurs.
Three central midfielders allowed for a level of control that definitely had to be established in a game where the Gunners’ opposition craved possession, but what this formation sacrifices is natural width, which the full-backs have to bomb up and down to provide.
Both Sead Kolasinac and Bellerin are excellent at doing so – they have chalked up eight league assists between them this season (according to Transfermarkt) – and are exactly the type of full-back required to make the narrow formation a success.
However, with Bellerin out, who fills that role? Maitland-Niles is the most logical option out of the aforementioned trio due to his far better mobility and technical ability, but he’s inevitably naive defensively. Litchsteiner and Jenkinson, meanwhile, while sturdier and more experienced players, just don’t have the natural energy to essentially marshal a whole flank single-handed.
It would certainly be a shame to see the former PSG boss retire the 4-3-1-2 formation after the success it brought them against Maurizio Sarri’s men, but he may have no choice without Bellerin in the side.