Polish youngster Krystian Bielik arrived at Arsenal from Legia Warsaw as a midfielder, his leggy style inviting the inevitable Patrick Vieira comparisons.
But Arsene Wenger has already reevaluated the 18-year-old’s prospects and decided his future likely lies in the centre of defence.
With Arsenal light on defensive options, Bielik featured at the back in both matches on the pre-season American tour. And the Pole explained to FourFourTwo.com that it was his ability to bring the ball out from the back that convinced Wenger he can make a top-level centre-half.
“Arsene knows that one of my strongest points is my distribution of the ball. He saw that I can play direct passes all the way forward, and start moves.
“I’ve talked to his assistants on numerous occasions and they repeated constantly, ‘We know your offensive qualities, now we want you to get all the necessary defensive mechanics’. So I’ve worked on positioning, reading the game from centre-back, intercepting passes, clearing the danger.
“Arsene told me that the best centre-backs in the world have both defensive and offensive qualities – they can balance both sides. Those are the footballers that every top club values the most.”
Bielik admits the adjustment hasn’t been easy.
“I came to Arsenal as a central midfielder, so it took some time to get comfortable in a new position, but now I feel alright. I know what my new responsibilities are, try to learn as much as possible and be ready to compete whenever I’m asked to.
“I just want to play for Arsenal, it doesn’t matter where that would be – defensive midfielder, right-back. If Arsene wants me to be the centre-back, I will do everything I can to make him happy.”
While grateful for Wenger’s support, Bielik knows the road ahead is a difficult one, with Arsenal set to make at least one experienced defensive signing this summer. But the Pole is not putting himself under pressure to make an immediate first team impact.
“I want to play when Arsene decides I’m ready. All I can say is that I’m extremely happy to be included in training with the first team. Its amazing, almost surreal. I feel like I’m growing with every practice and every game. I’m becoming a much better.”
“I don’t feel any pressure that I have to break into the rotation next week or next month. There will be a right time for everything. I will eventually get to where I want to be, I’m pretty confident about it. I trust the system and the manager.”