By Rob Kelly
Like most people of an Arsenal persuasion, Hector Bellerin has been somewhat bowled over by Santi Cazorla since his arrival at Arsenal.
“He is absolutely unbelievable,” the 17-year-old told Arsenal.com. “He is a proper Spanish player! I have spoken to him a bit, he is a good guy, he’s really happy here and I’m really pleased he came. He is someone to look up to.”
While his Spanish compatriot has been hailed far and wide for his performances in the first team, Bellerin has quietly been earning rave reviews at under-21 level. That in turn led to a place on the bench for the Capital One Cup ties against Coventry and then Reading.
“Beating Reading 7-5 was just an amazing game,” he said. “I couldn't believe it when we were 4-0 down but the way we fought back was fantastic.
"I was just really happy that I was involved in that game, it is something I will never forget for my whole life.
“I didn't expect to make the bench for the first team this year. I am really happy I have had the chance and once I get an opportunity on the pitch I will try to make the best of it.”
That could come next month when Arsenal head to Valley Parade to face Bradford in the Capital One Cup quarter final. However, Bellerin is taking nothing for granted.
“To play in the first team was not my aim for this season,” he said. “[Being on the bench] is a gift for you, a reward for all your hard work.
“If I get the chance [against Bradford] I will be really happy, and if it doesn't happen then I will just keep working really hard and hopefully I'll get a chance next year.”
As way of preparation, Bellerin’s participation in the NextGen Series has served him well. It has not always been a happy experience for the full back - he was sent off in the 2-0 defeat at Olympiacos - but he insists has learnt a lot from it.
And heading back to Spain to play in front of nearly 10,000 fans last week in the goalless draw with Athletic Bilbao was certainly a highlight.
“It was great,” he said. “I was really pleased when I heard we had a Spanish team in our group, and I knew there would be loads of people at the game as Bilbao have such good fans.
“I was looking forward to it and it was really enjoyable. It is always a test to play away from home in front of all those fans, so it was a great experience and I will learn a lot from it.”
Bellerin’s next test is against West Bromwich Albion in the Under-21 Premier League at London Colney this afternoon. It is one he is likely to relish as he continues the upwards trajectory that seems likely to end up with him in Arsenal’s first team.
Until then, he is happy to simply work hard, enjoy his football and patiently wait for his chance.
Follow @ArsenalLive on Twitter for updates from the under-21 game from 12.55pm (UK time). Kick-off is at 1pm.