Previously, our Hale End graduate was renowned for lacking consistency when he had opportunities to cement a regular spot in the starting eleven. But under our exciting, young Spanish coach, he is another player who has raised his levels. If we analyse him under Arteta, there haven’t been many games where he has put in below par performances.
Under Arteta pre-COVID-19
With Hector still recovering from his long term injury, Ainsley was Mikel’s go-to right back. Clearly, there were significant improvements in his positional awareness out of possession and his ability to deal with 1v1 situations. The Spaniard deployed him as an inverted right back to help accommodate Saka. With no recognised left back at the time, our young teenage sensation was instructed to fulfill the full back role ‘on paper’. When in possession, Xhaka would fill in on the left, to minimise Saka’s defensive responsibilities. AMN would then tuck in to maintain the midfield pivot as this would help prevent overloads and easy transitions through our centre if we lost possession higher up the pitch.
Kyle Walker is brilliant at playing as an inverted full back. You need high levels of concentration and defensive discipline to play this role. There were question marks as to whether Ainsley could do this. But he showed to be very capable. A standout display was his brilliant performance against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Wilfred Zaha has been a constant thorn in our side over the years, whether that’s through assists, goals or winning penalties for his side. But our young, versatile English star coped with him well and completely minimised the threat of Roy Hodgson’s talisman.
Come January against Sheffield United, this would be the last time we saw him in a Premier League starting eleven before lockdown. The goal scored by Fleck came from our right hand side, and Ainsley received plenty of criticism. But for me, he can’t be solely blamed for this goal and I urge you to watch it back. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and he should have got tighter to his man. But he had no support whatsoever and there were plenty of elements in the build up to the goal that must be analysed as well. He was then taken out of the side with an injury-free Bellerin reclaiming his spot as first choice.
We don’t know what happened behind the scenes and can only speculate about why we saw little from him in the League after this. But in terms of judging his performances as a whole, it was harsh to drop him in my opinion.
A trustworthy player
Post COVID-19, it was clear to me that Maitland-Niles became a player that Arteta had complete faith in, no matter where he played. Wolves away, he was brought on to play left wing back for the last thirty minutes and was tasked to nullify the threat of Adama Traore. He put in a solid display.
Against Sheffield United in the FA Cup, this time he was positioned at right wing back. But again, it was another impressive performance from the 22 year old. Offensively, he developed a healthy partnership with Nico, continuously providing an overlapping option. The advanced positions he took gave our tricky Ivorian inside right forward more time and space on the ball. Partnerships and combinations is what gets the best out of your attacking stars and he certainly provided this for Pepe.
Then we have the two crucial cup semifinal and final games. Against Pep’s City, he was selected to play at left wing back. It was a surprise inclusion as you would have thought Saka would get the nod. But our manager had confidence that Ainsley was fully capable of doing the job. And he did just that as Mahrez had very little impact in the game.
Then we come to the final against the Blues. Offensively, he combined extremely well with Aubameyang, causing Reece James and Azpilicueta all sorts of issues. Mount’s influence in the game was minimal and credit must go to our makeshift wingback.
It’s clear that, from my perspective, Arteta’s had complete trust in Maitland-Niles since lockdown has been lifted. And, you have to say, he certainly hasn’t let his manager down.
The biggest praise I can give to Ainsley is the change in attitude. Not many get the opportunity to play for ‘The Arsenal’ and he seems to have finally realised this. It doesn’t matter where you play, just appreciate it. Whenever you get a chance, make that position your own!
However, I do fear that this resurgence in form and promise may have come too late. Previously, he had opportunities to cement his place as the number one right back for this great club. But he clearly was never happy with this role and his persistent desire to play in central midfield might be his downfall, as reports are now linking him with a move away from the Emirates.
In my opinion, we should keep him as his versatility is so desirable. RB,RWB,LB,LWB,CM,RW are all positions he covers. He gives us quality depth! It’s rumoured that Arteta wants to keep him but the board have other plans. If the manager wants him here next season, then he should stay as far as I’m concerned.
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23 years of age, 23 years as a Gooner. Arsenal runs through my veins and it pains me to see the current position and state of the club. Reading many football articles over the years has inspired me to write blogs containing Arsenal analysis. I’ve always wanted my fellow Gooners to be aware of my thoughts and opinions of ‘The Arsenal’ and thanks to Dave and Paul, I now have a platform which makes this possible.