Ever since a fresh faced Cesc Fabregas swapped La Masia for London back in 2003, an influx of young Catalan talent have decided that the grass is greener away from the Camp Nou. As it stands, Arsenal hold five to be schooled in the much acclaimed academy.
The most notable is of course, Mikel Arteta but one man hoping to make a sizable impression during the season ahead in young full-back Hector Bellerin. The 19-year-old joined the ranks with Barcelona teammate Jon Toral back in 2011, making 32 appearances in his first campaign with the youth set-up. Due to the departure of the long-serving Bacary Sagna and the loan of Carl Jenkinson, Bellerin could see his stock rise as he jumps from “No hope” to third choice.
Ahead of the right-back in the pecking order are new signings Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers respectively. The former’s place in the starting XI is all but confirmed for the most part of the 2013/14 season with nobody else boasting the Premier League experience the Frenchman brings to the party. The former Newcastle man started ahead of Sagna in all of his country’s fixtures at the World Cup this summer, but will still have a lot to live up to at the Emirates.
The latter, however, is only 19 himself and can play in a vast array of different positions. In his press conference after the Emirates Cup defeat to Monaco, Arsene Wenger hinted towards Chambers playing as a holding midfielder for his new side. The Southampton starlet partook in both games last weekend, but applied his trade at centre-back on both occasions. Forking out £16m to acquire his services, the manager seemingly has faith in his ability and will slot him in at right-back if needs be.
Where does this leave the Spanish U19 international? After making a statement of intent with a terrific performance against Benfica at the Emirates Cup, the fans and management staff alike will be scratching their heads. Perhaps a pre-season thumping over an inferior team, that have had their treble winning squad ripped apart, isn’t best suited to judge such a raw talent. Gooners have been guilty before though, with Jack Wilshere making a name for himself in the same competition, and look how that turned out.
With his pace and dribbling ability on display, Bellerin bombed forward whenever possible whilst maintaining a decent defensive performance in the process. Intercepting the ball well inside his own half of the pitch, the defender sprinted down the touchline, played a delightful one-two with Yaya Sanogo to find the incoming Joel Campbell with a pinpoint cross. An excellent goal scoring move from a trio of exciting prospects that should have the Gunners salivating.
A competitive debut in the penalty shoot-out win over West Brom in the League Cup last September saw many Football League clubs fight to take him on loan. Watford won and Gianfranco Zola subsequently made sure this particular loanee would be given plenty of game time in England’s second division. An excruciatingly dismal run of games saw the ex-Chelsea player resign from his job, being replaced by Giuseppe Sannino. A change of manager ultimately sparked a change of fortune for the youngster and was latterly frozen out of the squad. After three-months at Vicarage Road, which included an impressive jinking run against Leeds United to set up Cristian Battocchio, Wenger sighted it would be best to be back training in London Colney rather than sitting on the bench in the Championship.
Liam Brady’s last year as Head of Youth Development ended poorly. Arsenal dropped down to the second tier of U21 football in the inaugural season of the U21 Premier League. Andries Jonker has been brought in to succeed the legendary figure but it is unlikely players such as Chuba Akpom, Gedion Zelalem and Bellerin will improve if their opponents aren’t up to their own lofty standards.
What the future holds for the Barcelona boy remains to be seen but for now, he is certainly enjoying his tenure in North London.