Where’s Ainsley Maitland-Niles?
Ainsley Maitland-Niles has had a strange season so far. He began with decent performances at rightback while Hector Bellerin was injured. Then Calum Chambers took his place and he faded out of the starting eleven. Then Chambers got an injury and he was back again, only to meet a team that had completely forgotten how to defend, attack, and win by play together. It was a mess.
Then the former coach was sacked. Then Mikel Arteta came back after an extensive period studying under Pep Guardiola and immediately gave Ainsley a new role: an inverted fullback playing most of the match in the midfield when his team had the ball.
It was perfect and Ainsley was transformed into one of Arsenal’s best players overnight. Every single game he had under Arteta was excellent and the fans began to get behind the academy graduate. It was definitely the best stretch of the 22-year-old in the team so far and we were all enthralled.
Then Hector Bellerin came back from his injury, scored a late equalizer against Chelsea, and everything came crashing down for Ainsley. Apparently, he was still second choice after all, and obviously, Arteta wasn’t always going to persist with his inverted fullback role in the squad. But Hector Bellerin has since played all the major games since then. He hasn’t been very spectacular (in fact, some might even consider his overall performance shaky since returning) but Arteta clearly sees him as first choice and wants to help him get back to full fitness and peak performance by giving him a run out of games. Against Olympiacos, there was no obvious reason not to play him. He was fully fit. However, Arteta chose to go with Sokratis.
Something obviously is wrong.
Is it an attitude problem? A training issue? A tactical decision? Have the executives decided to sell him in the summer? Where exactly is Ainsley?