Héctor Bellerín has been around for a long time, so it’s easy to forget he’s just 23 years old.
Yet his four seasons in the Arsenal first team have given him a wide range of experiences. After all, in the eyes of certain Gunners fans, the Spaniard has gone from promising youngster, to excellent defender, to error-prone disappointment, and finally back to consistent performer.
“When I first came into the ranks at Arsenal, the expectations were very low so people were often impressed when I played well,” he said, speaking about fan reaction on social media, in a recent interview with The Times.
“But then, when I played badly, the stick got crazy. The worst was a year and a half ago. A lot of people say nice things but it is natural to focus on the bad.
“For a while, I deleted the apps. Later, I decided to go back on. Twitter is a great source of information. Every day I am learning to deal with abuse in a better way.”
A new man under Emery
Under Arsène Wenger, Bellerín was heavily involved in build-up play. His 46 passes per 90 minutes was the eighth highest among full-backs in the league last season, and his persona radar shows how much he was possession-focussed in 2017/18 compared to his new role under Emery.
His total number of accurate passes per game has dropped (to 34.5) but his expected goals assisted has leaped. In 2017/18 the value of the chances he was setting up was 0.16 expected goals per 90 minutes; this season it’s 0.42.
Why the improvement? Largely because he’s already teed up two hugely valuable chances inside the six-yard box.
He only created three shot assists into the six-yard box throughout the whole of 2017/18, and two of them were crosses rather than square balls from nearby.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that this is Bellerín’s role settled for the season, week-in and week-out.
“With Arsène, he wanted us to play in the same way regardless of the opponents,” he continued. “The idea was that we could play in our way and beat anyone.
“But Emery is very focused on preparing a plan for our next opponents, whoever they may be. It is very detailed and very professional. The next few months are going to be very exciting for all of us. We will reach a higher level.”
It’s early days but it looks like Bellerín already has. And that may mean his stock is once again on the rise.