On Tuesday night, as Arsenal hosted Bayern Munich, their young right back Hector Bellerin would have looked back at his last memories of playing against the German opposition, and not too fondly. When Arsenal visited the Westfalenstadion to take on Borussia Dortmund, Bellerin had a nightmare of a game, still early on in his Arsenal career.
It seemed to be a similar performance last night, as Douglas Costa tore into him time and again, turning him inside out on more than one occasion for most of the first half. The second half was an improvement, with the young Spaniard keeping a 100% passing accuracy and making 3 interceptions. But the moment that defined why he was kept at the club ahead of the more experienced Carl Jenkinson, and why he has kept Mathieu Debuchy on the bench came late on in the 90th minute of the game.
Having played 90 minutes of what was probably the most exhausting match of the season for Arsenal, the 20-year-old sprinted on to a slightly overhit pass, snatching the ball from Juan Bernat, before flying past another Bayern defender before squaring it for Mesut Ozil to make it 2-0 for Arsenal. This pace, attacking intent and most importantly his determination and commitment to make life hard for his opposition, even in the dying embers of the game, is what defines Hector Bellerin as a player.
Arsenal fans were left surprised when, after Bacary Sagna’s departure in the summer of 2014, Carl Jenkinson was also loaned out. Mathieu Debuchy had signed from Newcastle and was bound to be the first choice right back but Jenkinson surely had to be second choice given no one else was signed. Bellerin had just returned from an impressive loan spell at Watford, but hadn’t played at the top level and when he was retained as the backup to Debuchy, it didn’t convince many.
Injuries to Debuchy saw Bellerin getting a handful of starts, and the former La Masia starlet made a slow start to his Arsenal career. But slowly and steadily, he set about solidifying his place on the right hand side of the Arsenal defence, as the 2014-15 season also saw another Spaniard win his place as a fullback, with Nacho Monreal impressing immensely at left back.
Having started out as a winger, his attacking instinct was there for all to see, as he grabbed his first goal for Arsenal against Aston Villa in a 5-0 win, with a neat finish from outside the box. But the moment which really marked his arrival for Arsenal was his opener against Liverpool at the Emirates. Receiving the ball on the edge of the box, he turned the opposition full back, before curling a beautiful shot into the back of the net. Arsenal won the match 4-1, but the skill and composure shown by the Spaniard was much more than what you would expect from a young fullback.
This season, he has looked more solid defensively, while being a major attacking force. One reason why Arsenal have been able to score goals more freely this year is that they have two fullbacks who are genuine threats with their crossing and movement in general. Bellerin has been key to that, having now created 11 clear cut chances, which according to stats is the highest number of chances created by any player in the top 5 leagues in Europe.
He matches his blistering pace with accurate crosses and intelligent movement, making him a deadly threat on the right hand side for Arsenal. Aaron Ramsey is the preferred player on the right hand side for Arsene Wenger and Bellerin has formed an impressive partnership with the Welshman, linking up with ease. Bellerin’s beautiful run and assist for Ramsey’s first goal of the season against his former loan club Watford is a testament to their partnership.
He recently indicated that he is happy to stay at Arsenal, even though there is sure to be an interest in the young Spaniard as his performances keep getting better with each match. And he seems to be grounded and determined to only get better. He has had some bad performances, but they have been few and far between. Playing with consistency, commitment and confidence, Bellerin is proving to be another beautiful gem unearthed by Arsene Wenger.