X

Arsenal: Meet Jon Toral and Hector Bellerin, the Club's Burgeoning Catalan Duo

Matthew Snyder@schnides14Analyst IIIAugust 23, 2012

A young Catalan midfielder, fast gaining renown for his technical quality and uncanny vision, is making inroads at Arsenal.

Years ago, that would have hearkened memories of one Cesc Fabregas; now, the mantle has passed to Jon Toral, who at 17 is furiously fighting to recover from a knee injury so he can get right back on with his career.

A product of Barcelona's fabled La Masia academy like Fabregas, Toral decided to follow in the former Arsenal captain's footsteps in making a move to north London.

With first-team opportunities at a premium for youngsters at Barcelona, Toral figured he could satiate his desire for top-flight first-team football with the side Fabregas had once cracked at the tender age of 17.

A long-time admirer of the Premier League, which he once described to Arsenal's official website as "the best in the world," Toral felt that featuring for Arsenal would be a dream come true.

His choice of footballing influence must have made him something of an anomaly, one would think, amongst his Barcelona peers.

Toral cites Frank Lampard and Jack Wilshere as his favorite players—interesting choices, no doubt, given the bevy of talented technicians on display on a weekly basis at the Camp Nou; but they do provide a glimpse into the style of footballer the 5'11" midfielder hopes to become.

Known for his surging runs into the area, Toral describes himself as "intelligent, hardworking and generous." In that self-description, it's easy to see glimmers of Wilshere's approach to the game.

He certainly made an impression—in his first year in the Arsenal system he'd already made two appearances for the reserves—a big honor for such a youngster.

The physical aspect of his game is highly encouraging, as is the fact that he wore the No. 10 while in the Barcelona youth set up. That number doesn't come cheap at La Masia (Barca's fabled academy), and only the most sublime of technicians can ever aspire to sport it.

Toral has continued showing his immense potential for Arsenal, who came calling in the summer of 2011. Toral thought the club had been tracking him since a noteworthy string of performances in a Nike Cup competition in Manchester, which Barcelona had won.

After mulling his options, he decided a move back to England was the best course of action for his future.

He would be joined on his flight to London by another Barcelona youngster keen on finding more first-team football.

Hector Bellerin began his career as a winger, but eventually converted to side-back, where he currently plays in the Arsenal set-up.

He one-upped his young compatriot in making four appearances for the reserves a season ago, and also played 16 games for the U-18s.

Toral calls him "the most talented player in the youth team," high praise considering the terrific players currently plying their trade at that level. Bellerin has already earned raves for his crossing ability and tendency to get forward into dangerous positions.

A sweeping move in a game for the U-18s last season against Portsmouth might be the best indicator of the talent both these players possess.

"(Hector and I) broke from our own box with Serge Gnabry, he passed to Hector on the right wing and then made the run forward," Toral told the official site.

"When I got to the edge of the (penalty) area, I stepped backwards a few paces to make room for myself. Hector passed to me and I fired the ball into the top right corner. It is a move that we have been taught at Barcelona since a young age and Hector said that he knew I would be there, he did not have to look up."

It would prove one of the few contributions Toral would make to the side in his debut season. He succumbed to a debilitating knee injury in January that set him out for eight months.

Much has been made about "Barca DNA" in recent seasons; Arsenal fans likely do not want to hear much more about it after Fabregas left Arsenal in 2011 for the club of his youth.

But if Toral and Bellerin stay on at the Emirates, that prescient sense, seen so often in the Barcelona first team these past trophy-laden seasons, could prove a vital boon.

Both were included in the squad list for the Under-21 opener against Bolton this past Monday, as well.

Bellerin started at right-back, while Toral was an unused substitute. One thinks it won't be too long before Toral joins Bellerin on the pitch.