Why Hector Bellerin signing his new Arsenal deal is Arsene Wenger's best news of the year

He has become one of the best full-backs in Europe, which is why Arsenal are so keen to keep him away from Barcelona and Manchester City

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The Independent Football

“It will be great,” smiled Arsène Wenger on Thursday morning, when asked for his reaction to Hector Bellerin’s imminent signing of a new deal. “Let’s say ‘it is great’ when it is done.”

Four days on, Bellerin has signed a new long term contract at Arsenal, ending any chance of him going to Barcelona or Manchester City any time soon. It is the most important news Arsenal will get for months, and will only help in their attempts to persuade Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez to commit their futures to the club too.

That might sound like exaggeration in the case of a 21-year-old full-back who has only been a regular for the last two years. But Bellerin is far more than that. He is a unique player in the Premier League, and has very few rivals in European football. If he went, Arsenal would not replace him with anyone half as good. 

Modern expansive football needs fast full-backs, men to provide the width while attacking midfielders tuck in. That is how Arsenal play, with their narrow 4-2-3-1 demanding their full-backs dominate wide areas. In Bellerin they have a player who is fit and fast enough to keep charging up and down his flank, framing their attacks while also helping out in defence. That is what he has done for two years now, and no one else in the country does it as well as him.

Because while modern football is desperately dependent on fast fullbacks, academies are not yet churning out these players as much as their first teams would like. Arsenal found Bellerin at the Barcelona academy, playing as a very quick and brave little right-winger. They signed him in 2011 along with his team-mate Jon Toral, a midfielder, and tried to sign Sergi Samper too.

Steve Bould got to work trying to turn Bellerin into a right-back, and even today Bellerin admitted that he did not know how to defend when he arrived. Within a year Bellerin was playing at right-back for Arsenal’s Under-21s, at the age of 17, and his progression continued quickly from there. Arsenal signed Carl Jenkinson in 2011 and Mathieu Debuchy in 2014 but they have both been blown away by Bellerin, and were tellingly both loaned out last season.

In the future most full-backs will be converted wide players, but for now Bellerin is a rare model, which is why he is so attractive to other clubs. Pep Guardiola wanted him at City this summer, seeing his Barcelona education and Premier League experience as the perfect combination. City would have paid very good money for Bellerin. But Arsenal refused to negotiate at any price and Bellerin was very happy to stay too. If Barcelona came in for him it might be a harder decision, but now that Bellerin has signed up until 2023 there is no danger of that happening any time soon.