Arsene Wenger has urged Hector Bellerin not to take part in the European Under-21 Championships this summer, but admits the full-back will almost certainly be heading for Poland.
The 22-year-old has picked up three senior caps with Spain but is likely to be included in Albert Celades’ squad for the Under-21 event.
Bellerin has risen to prominence with the Gunners since joining from Barcelona’s academy in 2011 and recently penned a new contract at the Emirates Stadium as the club looked to fend off interest from the Catalan giants and Manchester City.
His form has dipped of late, much like that of Arsenal on the whole, to the extent that he was berated by the club’s supporters following Monday’s 3-0 loss at Crystal Palace.
Wenger is keen for Bellerin, who has featured in 32 of Arsenal’s 45 games this season, to rest up over the off-season but it does not look like he will get his wish.
“It’s not ideal after a long season,” Wenger said when asked about Bellerin travelling with Spain Under-21s.
“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.”
While Bellerin has been one of the first names on Wenger’s teamsheet when fit, he missed over a month of the campaign after injuring his ankle against Tottenham in November.
And Wenger reckons the right-back has yet to completely overcome that problem, after another minor ankle injury followed.
“He has not come back to his level since he has been injured,” said Wenger.
“I think (he has been feeling the ankle) for a while. 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.
“Then you realise you have to come back and I think now he is trying to focus on again what is important, to defend well and 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.”
Despite admitting Bellerin has dropped off, he labelled supporters’ criticism of the player unfair.
“I think, yes,” he said when asked if the negative reaction to Bellerin at Palace was uncalled for.
“He is a guy who is genuinely Arsenal and wants to do well. He is ready to play with pain and I think it is, yes.
“The fans want to be behind the team and the way we respond on the football pitch will decide the attitude of the fans.
“The fans love the club. It’s a good period to be united and not divided. Historically Arsenal has been about that. One of our values is to be together. There’s no better period of the season than to show it now.”
With fellow right-backs Carl Jenkinson and Mathieu Debuchy nowhere near the Arsenal first-team at present, Bellerin is all-but guaranteed to start at Middlesbrough on Monday night.
Wenger needs a result at the Riverside after a run of seven defeats in 12 games and with fan pressure mounting against him as he dallies over announcing whether he will stay at the club beyond the end of the season.