Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has paid a heartfelt tribute to Hector Bellerin following the right-back’s departure for Barcelona on deadline day.
Bellerin originally left La Masia in 2011 to sign for the Gunners and was a servant to the North London club for 11 years, eventually becoming Arsene Wenger‘s first-choice right-back.
However, the 27-year-old began to struggle with form and injuries and soon fell down the pecking order at the Emirates behind Takehiro Tomiyasu and Cedric Soares.
Bellerin reignited his career with five assists in 32 games during a loan spell with Real Betis last term – winning the Copa del Rey in the process – and he returned to Arsenal to feature in pre-season.
The Spain international’s proposed permanent move to Betis did not materialise, but an agreement was struck for him to rejoin Barcelona on a free transfer, with Arsenal retaining a 25% sell-on clause.
Bellerin won three FA Cups, scored nine goals, provided 29 assists and made a total of 239 appearances during his time at Arsenal, and Arteta has wished his former teammate well in Catalonia.
“He called me really late last night, that was more a conversation that we used to have when we were teammates and really good friends,” Arteta told reporters in Friday’s press conference.
“Take the coach and the player situation away and get back into that relationship as well. I love the kid, I love what he’s done for the club, he’s someone I have very strong feelings about.
“I know it’s one of his dreams to play there [Barcelona], so hopefully he can fulfil his dream and get his career back where he can, because he’s still very young and has a lot to do.”
Arsenal sanctioned the exits of Bellerin and Ainsley Maitland-Niles on deadline day, with the latter joining Southampton on loan, but the Premier League leaders did not make any more additions.
The Gunners tried and failed to strike a deal for Aston Villa’s Douglas Luiz after supposedly having as many as three bids rejected for the 24-year-old, who will become a free agent next summer.
While Arteta has admitted his disappointment at not being able to add to his midfield ranks after losing Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny to long-term injuries, he is satisfied with the squad that he has at his disposal.
“The club has done a phenomenal job to bring players with the profiles we wanted. Unfortunately Thomas got injured in the same place last time and Elneny has a long term injury. We had to react. We tried but have to bring in the right player for team and for club but didn’t manage to do that,” Arteta added.
“It’s the team we have. For me it’s the best squad and team I have available. There is nothing else we can do. We have an academy as well that we have to use and we will try to do that the best possible way.”
Arteta conceded that Elneny’s thigh injury will take months to heal, while Partey’s issue in the same area will also take a number of weeks to clear up completely.
The Gunners boss also provided updates on Martin Odegaard, Aaron Ramsdale and Oleksandr Zinchenko ahead of Sunday’s Premier League contest with Manchester United at Old Trafford.