There was once a time when Arsenal possessed one of the world’s best youngsters in the game. Blessed with blistering pace, not even the fastest and most skilful attackers were able to cope with Hector Bellerin. At the mere age of 20, the young Spaniard was already emerging as one of the world’s best right-backs and it was no surprise that Europe’s elite were desperately chasing his signature.
Only five years ago, Arsene Wenger brimmed a broad smile on his face as he delightfully watched on as the young Hector Bellerin charged down the right flank, supplying venomous crosses for the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud to latch onto. It was remarkable to see how a teenager had settled in so well into a world-class team comprising the likes of Sanchez, Ozil, Cazorla and Ramsey and thriving in doing so. Here they had Hector Bellerin, fresh from Barcelona’s academy. It reminisced the years of Cesc Fabregas who had also cemented a place in Arsenal’s first team when he was a raw teenager. Both from Spain, both nurtured at the famous La Masia academy of Barcelona, it was inevitable that Bellerin would face a wave of pressure whenever he represented the famous red and white kit of Arsenal football club.
2015 proved to be Bellerin’s breakout year as his incredible performances established a place in Arsene Wenger’s team and featured heavily in Arsenal’s 8 match winning streak as they made a late charge for the title. Although they were beaten comfortably in the end by a margin of 12 points by Chelsea, Bellerin put the cherry on the top of a remarkable breakthrough campaign as he featured in Arsenal’s emphatic FA Cup final triumph over Aston Villa at Wembley. This would prove to be the stepping stone of a remarkable individual campaign that followed next season…
The famous night Arsenal welcomed Bayern Munich at the Emirates presented an opportunity for the young Bellerin to show what he was capable of against Europe’s elite. Against all odds, Arsenal prevailed victorious 2-0 and Bellerin’s handling of Douglas Costa and David Alaba left the rest of Europe in awe. They now had a first-hand view of what a spectacular talent Hector Bellerin truly was. Having not won the title for 11 years, Arsenal were top of the league in January and it was becoming more likely by the day that this would finally be Arsenal’s year. Ozil was in the form of his life, Koscielny and Mertesacker were solid as a rock at the back, Bellerin and Sanchez were as effervescent as ever and Giroud was enduring his most prolific season at Arsenal to date.
Despite Arsenal falling short of the title at the hands of Leicester, Bellerin was one of the few Arsenal players to hold his head high after a dismal end to the campaign as he made yet another step forward in his career by being selected in the Premier League Team of the Season which not only confirmed him to be the best right-back in the league, but now he was up there with the world’s best.
Hector Bellerin is probably the best right-back in the Premier League right now – Rio Ferdinand
The next 2 seasons would prove to be difficult for both Bellerin and Arsenal as he was left out of Spain’s World Cup squad and the Gunners missed on the Champions League in successive years for the first time in Arsene Wenger’s 22 year tenure at the club. As a result, the pressure rose upon Wenger until a point where he was forced to leave the club at the end of the season. With Unai Emery now at the helm of Arsenal, a fresh start promised for the club and Hector Bellerin would soon be back to his best as Arsenal made a rampant start to the season, winning an astonishing 11 games in a row to form the Gunners into serious title contenders. Amongst all of these factors for Arsenal’s resurgent form was Bellerin’s excellent link-up play with Arsenal’s front three of Aubameyang, Lacazette and Ozil. His pinpoint crossing and passing contributed to plenty of the Gunners’ goals, especially notable in the 3-1 win against Leicester where Bellerin was heavily involved in both of Aubameyang’s goals, linking up in attack with the Gabonese international and Mesut Ozil in superb fashion. Trademark Bellerin raiding down the right flank in explosive pace was a beautiful sight for Arsenal fans as it reminisced the Spaniard’s early days at the club…
However, just as things were running so smoothly, the Spaniard picked up a horror knee injury against Chelsea which ruled him out for 9 months. It was not only a devastating blow to Arsenal’s top 4 hopes but concerning for Bellerin’s career whether he would be able to play the same again despite the huge interference in his pace caused by the injury.
Bellerin would return from injury 9 months later in a League Cup clash against Nottingham Forest, coming off the bench to make an assist in an emphatic 5-0 victory. Unai Emery was sacked 2 months later with the Gunners in horrific form and Bellerin was yet to find glimpses of the form he showed last season. It was evident that the injury had affected him both mentally and physically, with the Spaniard seeming to lose his signature pace that served him so well for the past few years. Rusty and careless in his passing and crossing, Bellerin looked a completely different player…
Elsewhere in the Premier League, fellow right-backs Alexander-Arnold and Wan-Bissaka were stealing the spotlight from the throne which Bellerin sat on comfortably for 3 years. Bellerin had gone from one of the best right-backs in the world to being benched by Maitland-Niles in just the space of a year.
He may have regained a place in the starting eleven recently, but there’s no doubt that we still miss the old Hector Bellerin surging down the right flank with his lightning pace.
Injuries certainly are the cruellest aspect of this beautiful game.