On the 21st September 1994, Paul Scholes, the man Xavi called “the best player of his generation”, scored twice against Port Vale on his debut for Manchester United. Seeing his tired, petulant display against his city rivals in the FA Cup on Saturday you could be forgiven for forgetting the vivacity and skill that Scholes used to bring to the table. Football truly is a young man’s game now and this fact is epitomised by Jack Wilshere, who has a half century of club appearances and a full international debut under his belt at the same age that his Mancunian elder was just starting down the road to greatness.
Scholes, along with Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, was one of the pillars that Alex Ferguson built Manchester United’s recent eminence on. A near constant in their every triumph his complete mastery of playing as a central midfielder has only grown to be doubted in the last couple of years, and even then Scholes has had flurries where he has channelled his younger self, notably at the beginning of this season.
If Arsenal are to make their admirable experiment in youth and romance come to fruition in the form of silverware they will need a player of a similar ilk. With Cesc Fabregas seemingly Barcelona bound, and increasingly injury prone, it is time for Arsene Wenger to look inward at the flaws in his team rather than at the perceived injustice levelled at Arsenal from referees and “anti-football” naysayers.
Next year will be a huge turning point for the Gunners. With Stan Kroenke now in control sucess may be demanded in a sterner tone than under the previous, more disparate regime. When a foreign owner becomes synonymous with a club, as is the case under Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, they require trophies to sate their ego. Wenger has enormous reserves of good will capital to stave off the threat of the sack, but even he must be feeling the pressure of what looks to be another barren season.
Wilshere is the youthful, dynamic vision of the future for the Gunners and deserved winner of the PFA Young Player of the Year award. Should Fabregas leave then even more responsibility will be heaped upon his young shoulders. Given his performances this season perhaps responsibility is the stimulus he reacts best to – it has been his maturity and assurance against the best teams in the world that has marked him out, rather than a prodigous Rooney-esque explosivity.
Given his head next year he could be a potent attacking threat. His passing is laser guided and he also has the intricate footwork of a midfielder like Deco or Luka Modric that sees him slalom out of even the tightest, most well defended corners. If he can add 10 to 15 goals per season to his repertoire, not an easy feat by any measurement, then he will be the complete midfielder. Fabio Capello has already entrusted him with playing for his country. Now Arsene Wenger must make him the lynchpin of the Arsenal side.
Unlike some of his counterparts he rarely goes missing in important scenarios, suggesting a mental toughness that is seemingly the only barrier to Arsenal trophies. With the pace of Theo Walcott and the guile of Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey the North Londoners have the core of a formidable midfield. With the addition of one or two players in key positions a glum period could turn into an illustrious dynasty.