In the closing minutes of Arsenal’s high octane UEFA Champions League last 16 match against Barcelona on Tuesday, pockets of the Emirates stadium were already vacant. Notwithstanding the nailbiting two halves of the encounter, Barcelona were largely dominant. Every foray made by the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil was easily absorbed by the Barcelona defensive camp.
(Photo: BT Sport)
Disgruntled fans of the gunners left early after a double from Argentine Lionel Messi left the home side with a sizeable task coming into the second leg on 17 March.
In hindsight, it was probably the safest move on their part. Unbeknownst to them, Barcelona’s Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta took to Bellerin after the final whistle to congratulate him on a fine performance, according to Metro.
Scenes like that will not go down well with the Arsenal faithful.
In the Barcelona pair’s defence, they had to. And no, this isn’t a reprisal of the infamous Cesc Fabregas shirt prank of 2011.
Bellerin clogged Barcelona’s left wing, thwarting Neymar on numerous occasions. The Spanish international made a total of three tackles and two clearances, a respectable tally considering the quality of his opposition for the evening.
He is the perfect cog in the Arsenal machine. Alongside left side contemporary Nacho Monreal, the former La Masia youth has looked at home in the first team and has all but cemented his position as first choice right back in Arsene Wenger’s side ever since his competitive debut against West Brom in 2013.
Fellow right back Mathieu Debuchy leaving on loan to French side Bordeaux says everything there is to know about Bellerin’s status at the North London club.
(Photo: Arsenal Football Club)
However, it remains to be seen if he will spend the peak of his career at Arsenal. Barcelona are not calling at the moment, so a return to Camp Nou is not looming. But given his history at the Barcelona youth ranks and the post-match interaction with Pique and Iniesta, this is a case of “where there’s smoke there’s fire”.
Barcelona should not hope to depend on current right back Dani Alves any longer as he approaches the twilight of his career. Granted, Alves has played a perennial role in the dominant teams of both Guardiola and Luis Enrique, but the acquisition of right winger Aleix Vidal signals a changing tide for the blaugrana.
Alves is excellent offensive player and provider, but lacks the kind of speed that left back Jordi Alba possesses to sprint back to defend. While Vidal is an able deputy, he hasn’t quite fit in with Barcelona’s tiki taka play form.
Enter Bellerin. As a marauding fullback, Bellerin’s strengths as a footballer complements Barcelona manager Luis Enrique’s fast paced attacking football philosophy. Speed and width are key traits of Barcelona’s play style, qualities that Bellerin happens to revel in.
Rumour has it that he can even outrun Usain Bolt.
Without sounding like Xavi Hernandez, Bellerin possesses the Barcelona DNA, and then some. He has it embossed, even, having spent eight years playing the Barcelona way at youth levels.
This should worry Arsenal fans, for this sounds all too much like the Cesc Fabregas saga of 2011.
Having already lost promising Barcelona B fullback Alex Grimaldo to Benfica in January, Blaugrana fans will be eager for Bellerin to come home.
The alarm bells haven’t been sounded yet, but Arsenal fans might want to leave the Camp Nou early come 17 March when Barcelona play hosts for the second leg encounter.