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How Hector Bellerin rose through the ranks at Arsenal to become a Barcelona target

Wednesday 14th June 2017
The start of the 2014-15 season should have given Hector Bellerin a heavy heart. It was the season Arsene Wenger signed French regular Mathieu Debuchy in a £12million contract and Calum Chambers for £16million. Both were natural right backs. With Bacary Sagna preparing for a move to Manchester City, Bellerin's hopes of regular playing time was dashed to the wall by Arsene's purchase in the transfer market. However, things have turned out differently.

Arsenal's 3-0 triumph over Stoke City on January 11th 2015 came at a high price as full-back Mathieu Debuchy, who had just recently recovered from an ankle injury, was shoved across the pitch to the advertising hoarding after a collision with Stoke City's Marko Arnautovic. The Stoke winger was not penalised by the FA for the event while Debuchy had to spend three months on the treatment table, treating a dislocated shoulder. The resultant injury damaged Debuchy's shoulder and also Arsenal's title hopes.

Wenger was already in need of reinforcement for his defence at the time. The Frenchman had to call on then 20-year-old Spanish right-back – Hector Bellerin.

Bellerin was hijacked from Barcelona youth academy La Masia at age 16. As a La Masia graduate, much was expected from him when he moved to Emirates alongside fellow Catalonian Jon Toral in 2011. However, Bellerin slid into obscurity and was unheard of for three years. He was a youth player for the better part of the three years and also had a brief spell with Championship club Watford. But the then third-choice right-back had a turn-around in 2015. Brought on as a substitute for Debuchy in the right-back position, Bellerin rose through the ranks.

A good speedster, Bellerin immediately became a fan favourite. Series of outstanding performances from the Spaniard made Debuchy long term injury more bearable than expected. He was honoured with the Arsenal's young player of the year award and was the major reason why Debuchy went down to the bench in the following years.

Bellerin started out as a winger before he was remoulded to a right-back. It is not difficult why La Masia coaches trained him for the midfield. With enough pace to burn, Bellerin can expertly provide telling crosses, the abundant pace aids him in tracking back and that has made Arsenal's defence stronger.

Though of a little physique, Bellerin is hardly the victim of intimidation, except on very rare instances. But that is expected of a player of his age. Immediately after the season, different clubs came calling at the Emirates and rumours began flying of a potential return to Barcelona. However, the 22-year-old Spaniard publicly put a stop to the speculations by expressing his devotion to Wenger and Arsenal.

The 2016-17 season was quite different though. Bellerin, now the first choice right back, lost the form that made him a first-team member. His loss of form came at a time the squad was experiencing an injury crisis and the Gunners' defence became weak midway through the season. His performances were heavily criticised and he was eventually relegated to the bench.

Jenkinson and Gabriel could not measure up to him. However, Wenger had a change of luck in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain when he switched to the 3-4-2-1 formation. Alex took up Bellerin's role, surprising everyone with his outstanding display and he was quickly installed as Arsenal's first choice right wingback. However, Wenger was reminded of Bellerin's skills when he started against Chelsea in the FA Cup final and their last league game.

Again, the Barcelona rumours resurfaced at the end of the 2016-17 season. Bellerin took to Twitter to put an end to the rumours, leaving no doubt of his loyalty to Arsenal, an action that drew him closer to the heart of the Arsenal fans. Wenger's new 3-4-2-1 formation demands for the kind of speed Bellerin can provide. Having honed his skill in the Premier League, success in La Liga is not guaranteed.
Also, if he decides to return to the Spanish club, it would be better to reach there as an experienced world class defender, a level he is yet to attain. Making the slightest mistake at the Camp Nou will relegate him to the bench in no time and will hinder the growth of his career. With the French boss constantly complementing Bellerin, he can expect to be a regular in the team in the coming years. It would be unreasonable to leave Arsenal at this time, when he is yet to regain his form.
Adebayo Temitope

Temitope, an ardent soccer fan. I may be based in Lagos but I watch as much European football as I can. I've been writing about football for several years, before I joined IRIAW you may have seen my work on The Football Weeks. I'm also a keen music fan

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