Arsene Wenger urges Hector Bellerin not to play for Spain's U21s this summer - but admits he's powerless to stop him

While Wenger defended Bellerin against the abuse he received from his own fans, he said that Bellerin spending June playing international football was “not ideal”

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger does not want Hector Bellerin to play for Spain at the European Under-21 Championship in Poland in June, but accepts that he cannot stop him.

The 22-year-right back has struggled to shake off an ankle injury that has badly affected his season and he has been unable to replicate his form from last year. He has been target by disgruntled Arsenal fans, most visibly at Selhurst Park during Arsenal’s 3-0 defeat last Monday.

While Wenger defended Bellerin against that abuse, he said that Bellerin spending June playing international football was “not ideal” and he would rather Bellerin rested and recovered. However Wenger did acknowledge he thought Bellerin would go and play for Spain and that as his club manager he was powerless to stop it.

“It is not ideal after a long season,” Wenger sighed when asked about it at his press conference on Friday morning. “He should have a rest and prepare for next season. The Spanish players love to play for their country, and I think he will go as he loves to play for Spain.”

Bellerin is likely to be in Albert Celades’ squad, his final Under-21 championship before he is too old to play at that level any more. He is very keen to be part of the squad who are in a group with Portugal, Serbia and Macedonia. If Bellerin goes he will only get a brief break at the end of the domestic season, as Spain’s first game is on 17 June. If Spain play the final on 30 June then Bellerin would only get another short break before pre-season.

Having been part of the Spain senior squad at Euro 2016, Bellerin has not had a full summer off since 2015. Wenger is desperate for him to have a long break to allow his body to fully recover. Bellerin missed five weeks with an ankle injury in November and since then he has not felt at 100 per cent fitness. Wenger insisted that he is finally over the problem, but admitted it has affected his game.

“He has not come back to his level since he has been injured,” Wenger admitted. “I think for a while he was [still feeling his ankle].”

“Then you get bad habits, and you forget that your job first is to defend and win challenges, because you protect yourself a little bit,” Wenger said. “Then you realise you have to come back. I think now he is trying to focus on again what is important, to defend well. After he can give us that extra bit that is important as well. I agree that for a while he was not the Hector Bellerin we had seen at the start of the season.”

While Wenger thinks that Bellerin’s ankle has “completely healed” and said he does not need surgery as he is “completely clear”, he still wants more understanding from Arsenal fans who have turned on Bellerin recently.

Wenger agreed that targeting Bellerin was “unfair” because of how committed the right-back is to the club. “He is a guy who is genuinely Arsenal and who wants to do well,” Wenger said. “He is ready to play with pain, and I think it is [unfair], yes.” Wenger did not say this, but the fact that Bellerin turned down a move to Manchester City last summer to stay at Arsenal and sign a new contract does underline his commitment to Arsenal.

Arsenal go to Middlesbrough on Monday night and Wenger is determined that his team should reverse their disastrous away form with a good result. But he is not allowing too much of the criticism to get to him.

“I think I learned to focus on what I think I can influence and what is important,” he said. “I get in a little bubble and just focus on what I think is important, not too much what people say even if I respect the opinions of everybody. I have to dedicate my energy to be efficient with what I do and that is what I try to do.”