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A season-ending injury gifted Hector Bellerin his chance – now it’s Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ moment

The Spaniard knows all too well that one man's misery can easily be another man's gain

It’s an eerie coincidence.

Hector Bellerin was enjoying arguably his most impressive season yet in an Arsenal shirt before he suffered a devastating injury against Chelsea.

The Spaniard’s ACL rupture will rule him out for at least nine months and will subsequently present an opportunity for a team-mate to step up in his absence – heavily tipped to be Ainsley Maitland-Niles.


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Bellerin had looked a rejuvenated player under the new Arsenal regime

Reuters
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Bellerin had looked a rejuvenated player under the new Arsenal regime

The 21-year-old’s opportunity has arrived following an almost identical turn of events as to how the first-team door was thrown open for Bellerin in the 2014/15 season.

At the time the Spaniard had just a handful of cameo appearances to his name but was thrown in at the deep end after what was a season-ending injury to Mathieu Debuchy in 2014.

Debuchy’s time in north London was plagued by injury

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Debuchy’s time in north London was plagued by injury

The Frenchman had previously missed two months of his debut season with an ankle injury before suffering a dislocated shoulder after being pushed over advertising hoardings by then Stoke man Marko Arnautovic.

Debuchy’s misery transpired to be Bellerin’s gain and the La Masia graduate deputised expertly for his stricken team-mate, breathing fresh enthusiasm into the Gunners’ defence.

His performance against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League in 2014 was years beyond his age

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His performance against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League in 2014 was years beyond his age

The then 19-year-old grabbed his opportunity with both hands and went onto become a key member of the Gunners’ FA Cup winning side in 2015.

Bellerin finished the season with two goals and as many assists to show for his efforts and Arsenal haven’t looked back ever since.

It was a whirlwind rise to first-team stardom for the youngster

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It was a whirlwind rise to first-team stardom for the youngster

The Spaniard, perhaps with the exception of what was an indifferent last campaign, has made the right-back position at the Emirates his own since bursting onto the scene and gave Debuchy no chance of staging a comeback.

The Frenchman saw the writing on the wall and subsequently left for pastures new with St Etienne in Ligue 1.

He’s looked more like his former self upon returning to France’s top flight

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He’s looked more like his former self upon returning to France’s top flight

The misfortune of Debuchy proved to be the catalyst for Bellerin’s Arsenal career and Maitland Niles will hope lightning can strike twice.

The Hale End academy graduate has been little more than a utility man at the Emirates since making his debut in December 2014 and as a result is yet to carve out a real footballing identity for himself.

He’s very much been learning on the job so far

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He’s very much been learning on the job so far

Maitland-Niles has spoken openly of his desire to play in his preferred attacking midfield role but has been more than willing to fill in wherever needed by Unai Emery and previously Arsene Wenger.

It’s now his time to shine

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It’s now his time to shine

The 21-year-old’s athleticism and crossing ability fits the criteria required to be a modern wing-back and as such, Maitland-Niles has often been deployed on the right or left side of defence in his rare first-team outings.

He netted the opening goal in Arsenal’s defeat at Anfield in December

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He netted the opening goal in Arsenal’s defeat at Anfield in December

The former Ipswich loanee has already overcome one major injury setback himself this season after suffering a leg fracture against Man City in the opening game of the campaign.

His season came to a grinding halt on the opening day against the champions

Getty - Contributor
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His season came to a grinding halt on the opening day against the champions

Maitland-Niles showed remarkable powers of recovery to work his way back into the first-team picture after just a couple of months out and has put himself in pole position to take up the mantle during Bellerin’s prolonged period of absence.

A more than capable deputy

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A more than capable deputy

The youthful exuberance Bellerin brought to the side in 2014 is exactly what Emery will be hoping to see from Maitland-Niles for the rest of the season.

It’s the exact reason why he’s likely to get the nod over the ageing Stephan Lichtsteiner and underwhelming Carl Jenkinson.

Handball

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Handball

Arsenal fans will need to have patience with Maitland-Niles as he gets to grips with the added responsibility that will now be placed upon his shoulders.

The youngster, who has been with the Gunners since the age of six, will face the toughest possible start to life in his new role against a rejuvenated Man United in the FA Cup fourth round.

Passing of the torch

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Passing of the torch

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