Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ Wilshere Moment
On February 16, 2011, the world saw one of the greatest midfield performances in European club football history, all by a 19 year old footballer from Arsenal football club, a youngster who had the world at his feet, and two legends, Xavi and Iniesta, in the back of his pocket.
Jack Wilshere on the night put in a virtuoso performance as Arsenal came from a goal down to beat Barcelona 2-1 on our patch, which still is yet to feel like home, at least like Highbury was. After the game, plaudits came tumbling in their droves for the “Englishman who plays like a Spaniard with the heart of a German and the tenacity of an Italian.”
The belief of all and sundry was that, the young maestro after that night would take huge strides to become the world’s next greatest midfield player just like the two all-time greats he had clearly outplayed. Alas, it was not to be, as has become clear now, injuries ultimately robbed Jack of what could have been an immense career.
Now the poster child of young English players who couldn’t reach their maximum best due to poor injury records, Jack is still trying almost a decade later to recapture the form that had him on his way to football paradise, and it still could happen, but oh what could have been.
All season long we have seen another youngster pop up in the first team picture consistently albeit in several positions. Usually when Arsene forces to find a slot for you in the line-up regardless anything, means he wields a huge amount of belief in your ability. Not many know young players like the stubborn Frenchman does.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles has played in left back, right back, central midfield and attacking midfield all during what has ultimately been a season to forget. He has shown flashes of what he can do with and without the ball, and in every position he stepped into he did not make himself look bad.
The 20- year old from Goodmayes with his build, pace and insane first touch has shown himself deserving if not of a starting place yet, at least of a place as a squad contributor.
He finally had his huge moment yesterday, against Manchester United, in what was Arsene Wenger’s last game at Old Trafford as Arsenal manager, of what to us in the last decade has been the “Theatre of Nightmares.” The game ultimately ended as a loss, but after fielding what was the youngest team to play in the Premier League this season, many expected us to get battered. One reason that was not the case was due to the play of Man of the Match, AMN.
With a trio of experienced midfielders in play for United, Herrera, Pogba and Matic, the young Englishman was unfazed as he went into tackles, intercepted balls and recycled them with the skill of one beyond his years. His athleticism and defensive mindedness allowed him to put forth an all-encompassing display which definitely should not be that stunning to those who have seen him start this season.
With a strict but caring mother running the affairs of the Hale End product, you can be certain that his man of the match display against a team containing the most expensive player in the league as well as the best paid will not be allowed to get to his head, but would rather act a stepping stone towards what should be a long, fulfilling career in the heart of the Gunners team.
Seven years ago we thought Jack was going to boss the midfield for Arsenal alongside Aaron Ramsey, as our great British hope. It seems now though, that a younger, more athletic Englishman might partner Ramsey in the heart of the midfield for a long while, barring unfortunate injuries as well as by keeping his head down whilst working his socks off.
We may have had tumultuous times recently with Wenger at the helm, but we must be grateful for the current crop of youngsters he leaves his successor with, as they could prove the greatest gift to us from the Frenchman in the long run.