Bielik at centre-back – Temporary experiment or long-term planning?


When Krystian Bielik joined Arsenal in a high-profile move from Legia Warsaw in January, few people would have predicted that the young Pole would still be waiting to make his senior debut for the club by the time October came around.

That is the case, however, and to casual onlookers it may appear that the 17-year-old hasn’t developed quite as expected in the ensuing period. The reality is, though, that Bielik has been progressing very well for the club at U21 level and that he hasn’t been afforded an opportunity to impress in the first-team is largely owing to the fact that he has several senior players ahead of him in his two main positions of defensive-midfield and centre-back.

Bielik’s development since he joined the club has been interesting to watch, especially in terms of the positions he has been deployed in. Upon his arrival he started as a defensive-midfielder for the U18s before delivering some composed performances at the heart of the defence after he was swiftly promoted to the U21s.

He then enjoyed a run of games in midfield towards the end of last season, but this campaign he has, to the surprise of many, been utilised exclusively at centre-back.

That decision has been difficult to comprehend for some given that he is one of the very few bonafide defensive-midfielders on the club’s books at youth level. Furthermore, the fact that Bielik has been a regular starter for the U21s at centre-back has meant that Stefan O’Connor, another player the coaching staff have high hopes for, has been mainly used as a substitute this season.

As far as Bielik is concerned, he has fared well in his new position, forging an effective partnership with Julio Pleguezuelo. Bielik’s height and physical presence complements Pleguezuelo’s speed and craft, whilst Bielik himself is also excellent technically.

Bielik also possesses the intelligence to spot team-mates in good positions, although his passing can occasionally be off-key. He can also be caused problems by skilful and quick attackers, but, for the most part, he has fared well at centre-back.

The coaching staff’s decision to deploy him there seems rather deliberate, but there is a serious case to be argued that Bielik is even more effective as a defensive-midfielder. The youngster specialises in breaking up play and is more suited to playing his favoured short, snappy passes when he is stationed in the middle of the pitch.

In the U21 game against Derby County earlier in the season, Bielik started the game at centre-back and wasn’t at his best, but he thrived upon being moved into midfield following the introduction of O’Connor.

The decision to use him at centre-back also seems rather bizarre given that Bielik’s most obvious route into the first-team set-up at present would appear to be as a midfielder. The Gunners are well stocked for senior centre-backs at present, with Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Gabriel and Calum Chambers all at the club.

In contrast, in defensive-midfield the club are rather short of options beyond Francis Coquelin, with Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini both in their thirties and also in the final year of their current contracts at the club.

It has been a little surprising to see Glen Kamara training with the first-team regularly in recent weeks to provide defensive-midfield cover when Bielik is readily available. It seems, then, that the club see Bielik as a centre-back at the moment, and he certainly won’t mind so long as he is featuring regularly for the youth sides.

When it comes to first-team action, though, he may have to be rather more patient than initially anticipated for sustained opportunities. He stands a chance of making the squad for the Capital One Cup game away to Sheffield Wednesday next month, but before then he will seek to impress in training for the U21s.

Arsene Wenger is evidently a fan of Bielik, despite the fact that he demoted him, surely temporarily, from his first-team squad over the summer. The youngster will inevitably be back in the senior set-up in due course, but at the moment it appears that he will do so as a centre-back rather than as a defensive-midfielder.

It could well be the case that the club are attempting to school him as a centre-back so that he is able to cover there if needed in the future, and the development of a more rounded player would be to everybody’s benefit.

For now, though, Bielik is being seen as a centre-back and it will be interesting to see how he fares in that position throughout the course of the campaign, particularly if he comes up against exacting opposition in the UEFA Youth League.

9 comments

  1. the lad did an interview with Arsenal.com a number of weeks ago and he explained why he was playing CB, and its all about giving him more of an understanding of what CB want from their DM, and also to sharpen up his one on one play, and for him to spot blind side runners and stuff like that. He also said it is to improve his heading, and other aspects of his overall game. Arsenal are trying to make him a more complete player.

  2. It’s exactly what should he happening with all young players, try them out in a number of positions, you never know what might happen and how they progress. I mean who would have thought that a certain left back would end up as a striker for club and country and earn the swampies an £80m profit?

  3. Has looked good in recent Academy outings. Certainly a big old unit standing head and shoulders above most contemporaries; wouldn’t necessarily say he lacks mobility but he’s slightly more Per than Hector. Interesting prospect, our defence appears pretty well anchored with him in it.

  4. Being a keen watcher of the reserves and youth for more years than I care to remember, it was always the policy, back in the day, of playing youngsters in different positions, than their normal spot, in order to give them a new perspective on the game…

    It also allows young players to discover a new position permanently…
    It would be great if Bielik is equally at home as a def/mid and centre/back.

  5. I find it amazing that anyone expects a 17 year old to be in our first team, in the past 20 years I can only think of Anelka and Cesc who at that age were getting regular game time, and before that maybe Rocky and then all the way back to Brady and O’Leary. Its a very rare happening. Yet I see some writing off Bielik cos he has not made his debut yet. It also seems people forget about Kamara, just cos he has come through the ranks, the lad has big potential too, and he is yet to make his first team debut and he will soon be 20.

    Jeorge what is happening with Bennacer, he seems to have disappeared since making his debut for the u21’s

  6. I have a feeling they are trying to ease him into the pace of the English game. By putting him at CB they are giving him more time on the ball and to read the game. Once he builds up his confidence in this regard they will move him to CM. Very delicate age, especially for a foreign player coming to our league. If they consistently play him at CM and he struggles he could struggle mentally and become a bust. He seems to have all the tools to do well in the DM position so I hope we take the time to develop him properly.

  7. All players especially young ones should be able to play in variety of positions, it adds to their game and it develops leaders as that is some thing that is lacking. Leaders need to emerge and a variety of positions helps. After all in each of the age can anyone identify the leaders not just the captain? Just a thought

  8. When the board will understand that the time of Wenger was over a few years ago, when Wenger himself will have the goodwill to leave immediately, alone…
    Arsenal need a new coach with energy and ambition. Wenger did what he could, had star moments in its history. But everything has its end. Now is the time to do so with dignity, without hatred but with applause. If you slow down even months, Arsenal will lose many things, lost love, players, trust, positions and a lot of money in the end.
    Arsene, you’re an intelligent man, go yourself now with thanks and honors, not torture yourself and all of us …

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