Seven years ago today, a young Spaniard made his debut.
It’s always more enticing when you see a player make the move to your club from an academy as esteemed as Barcelona’s. Arsenal’s capture of Hector Bellerin in the summer of 2011 flew under the radar somewhat, but he nevertheless came to these shores with a healthy degree of expectation.
The caveat to that is that if Barça were willing to let him go, is he really all that?
Coming on as a 95th substitute against West Brom in the third round of the Carabao Cup, the time has flown by with him in Arsenal colours, from the highs of FA Cup glory to the infamously despairing lows of being hurdled abuse at by the away end at Crystal Palace.
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How romantic, then, that after injuries, form and transfer speculation galore, he’s finding some of his best form for the club under the man he replaced on that day seven years ago.
Indeed, Mikel Arteta made way at the Hawthorns for the young right-back, and is now coaching him into a period of his career where he’s rarely, if ever, looked better.
A horrific knee injury sustained in January 2019 put a premature end to his season. His pace was at its blistering best, while even his delivery – an area he’s often struggled with – had improved.
Coming back from that long-term layoff did prove difficult, however. Under Unai Emery’s (mis)guidance, he looked unsure of his tactical role within the team, more sluggish off the mark and rusty in almost every department.
Much of that is understandable, and expected, although as the months wore in it appeared Bellerin would never recapture his former form. Now, with another FA Cup trophy in the cabinet and a new role in Arteta’s system, those worries have been banished.
His pace has returned. His focus is better.
A new role that utilises him in the inside channels, as opposed to always hugging the touchline, has provided the platform to express his better qualities and lessen the use of his weaker attributes. He crosses less, is caught out positionally less, passes less but impacts the game far more.
Even with the ball at his feet he looks assured. Words I never thought I’d say with such confidence. Yet, that has provided genuine belief he can refine his game even more. Long may it continue.