Bellerin the biggest beneficiary of Oxlade-Chamberlain's Arsenal exit
Sometimes selling a player can be tantamount to addition by subtraction.
It would certainly appears to be so in the case of the deal which took Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool. Arsenal may have lost a popular and talented squad member, but their team seems significantly more balanced without him. And the main beneficiary of "Ox-it" appears to be Hector Bellerin. Restored as the first-choice right wing-back, the Spaniard was outstanding in the draw at Stamford Bridge.
Right up until deadline day, Arsene Wenger appeared to be bending over backwards to crowbar Oxlade-Chamberlain into the side. The Gunners boss clearly felt that a run in the first-team might be enough to convince the England international to stay at the Emirates, so he consistently deployed him as one of his two wing-backs. Initially he played him on the left, but when he struggled to adapt to the demands of that position, he was switched to the right.
Bellerin was the fall-guy, forced into an unfamiliar position on the wrong flank. Oxlade-Chamberlain had at least spent considerable game time as a left winger, whereas Bellerin's entire senior career had been played on the right. Inevitably, his game suffered, and his performance in the 4-0 drubbing at Anfield was one disastrously characterised by a clear sense of disorientation.
It's strange that Wenger was prepared to inconvenience Bellerin, a player under long-term contract and who has repeatedly made clear his loyalty to the manager and club, for one utterly determined to leave. There have been some reports that Bellerin wanted to join Barcelona this summer -- if so, then credit to him for not kicking up a fuss when he was denied a move. Clearly, he's someone who is regarded as playing a crucial role in the immediate future of this team.
That role ought to be on the right-hand side -- and now, thanks to Oxlade-Chamberlain's departure, it can be. For all his efforts to include him, Wenger could not offer Oxlade-Chamberlain what he wanted most: a central midfield berth. The player subsequently left to join Liverpool, and Bellerin has resumed duties in his preferred position.
Arsenal reaped the benefits of that switch against Chelsea. Bellerin was their most threatening attacking outlet for much of the game, and certainly created their two best chances. First he swung in an excellent cross which Danny Welbgck ought to have converted, before a well-measured pull-back granted an opportunity to Alexandre Lacazette.
Perhaps Bellerin's performance can in part be attributed to the fact that he found himself up against Marcos Alonso. The Chelsea wing-back concussed Bellerin with a particular heavy challenge in this fixture last season. But since then the former Barca boy has fought back impressively, dominating his countryman in each of the following fixtures. Bellerin has exacted the best kind of revenge: out-classing his opposite man on the field of play.
All in all, Bellerin looks geared up for a big season in his development. The wing-back role perfectly suits a player who began his career as a wide midfielder before being converted to a full-back. His attacking instincts and defensive diligence make him an ideal fit in this spot. There is no reason he can not fill this position for years to come.
Right now, Arsenal are in a position where they look likely to lose a number of key players next season. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez will both be out of contract, while club captain Per Mertesacker has already indicated his intention to retire.
Arsenal must now decide which players are going to be the key components in this team moving forward. A resurgent Bellerin should undoubtedly be one of the first names on that list.
James McNicholas is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @gunnerblog.