Where it all began
I think I speak for almost all Arsenal fans when I say no one expected Héctor Bellerín to go on to be the lynchpin he is now upon watching him get skinned alive at Signal Iduna Park in 2014.
A lot has changed since then, only five of the eleven who lined up that night remain, (one of whom is off to Turin in the summer) the man who compounded the Gunners misery that night by scoring Borussia Dortmund’s second is now our top scorer this campaign.
Making his first full start for Arsene Wenger’s men that evening was Héctor Bellerín, a promising young winger scouted from Barcelona aged 16, playing in his new converted role of right-back. It was a debut to forget – Arsenal losing 2-0 and the Spaniard looking like a frightened deer in those famous yellow and black headlights.
It’s time to talk about Héctor
Fast forward to May 2019 and we’re just about halfway through a 9-month Bellerín absence and the withdrawal symptoms are kicking in. Sustaining a serious knee injury in the latter stages of a 2-0 home win over Chelsea, in which he was stretchered off close to tears; it made for grim viewing for all gooners.
At just 24, Héctor has already had significant ups and downs in his career, highs that include two FA cups in 2015 & 2017 and downs such as being booed by his own away support after a torrid performance at Selhurst Park. But the change of management and a heavy focus on fullbacks being used as attacking outlets has led to a rather important question, how vital is Héctor Bellerín to this Arsenal team? Registering 5 assists before his season was ended prematurely, it’s clear Unai Emery values what his right-back brings to the team offensively just as much he does defensively. To put things into perspective, Héctor’s assist total this season ALONE is more than Luke Shaw has in his entire United career.
The man behind the bucket-hat
Analysing Héctor Bellerín the footballer is one thing, but one would argue he’s in a very small select few Premier League players that stand for more. Whether it be regularly speaking up on social issues such as our excessive use of plastics, or standing out for his fashion sense – it’s clear he’s not your run of the mill top-flight footballer. You won’t catch him in a tight overpriced gym king tracksuit, rather pinstripe trousers and a Burberry bucket hat. It’s factors such as these that make the Spaniard so divisive, either endearing himself to a demographic of younger more liberal-leaning fans, or the counter effect of the stereotypical ‘yer da’ blue passport fan wishing he’d cut his hair.
Now, none of that is to say Héctor shouldn’t be criticised when he plays poorly. But that’s ALL he should be criticised for. Not traits of his personality, hairstyle or dress sense. Take Bellerín’s announcement that he was adopting a strictly vegan diet, greeted with a warm response from some, others, however, such as Alan Brazil (the talkSPORT presenter who looks like he’s about to erupt at any given second) demanded Héctor ‘get a bit of steak down him’ and questioning whether someone like Diego Costa would ever go vegan in an attempt to belittle Bellerín’s decision.
What has annoyed many Bellerín detractors is that up until his injury, they couldn’t even dismiss his performances. When Paul Pogba was doing ghastly things such as changing his hairstyle or daring to wear clothes he likes, many claimed his performances on the pitch were suffering and these things were to blame. Bellerín models for Vogue midweek then drops a 7/10 minimum come Saturday at 3pm.
None of this is to dismiss the fine work Ainsley Maitland-Niles has done deputising at right-back whilst our number 2 nurses his knee, the youngster has done well for the most part and showcased himself as another one of the fine young British talents plying their trade at the moment. Unfortunately, his red card on Sunday was an example of the kind of defensive naivety that was so prominent in Bellerín’s earlier games and is something that will eventually rid itself from his game. There is little doubt, however, that once the Héctor is back to full fitness he shall regain his place as one of the first names on the team-sheet, and by the time he’s back hopefully there are a few new names on their alongside him.