Ashley Maitland-Niles was a rare positive to take out of last night’s 0-0 stalemate with West Ham, with the Arsenal youngster impressing in his first Premier League start of the campaign.
The defender was deployed at left-back yesterday, and while he impressed heavily with a strong performance, keeping summer arrival Sead Kolasinac on the bench is a huge ask. Maitland-Niles is versatile, and can play in a number of roles, and one possible position that isn’t secure in my eyes is at right-back.
Hector Bellerin has struggled to hit the heights of his opening seasons with our club, and has failed to earn the huge plaudits since suffering a minor injury after 18 months of first-team action. It could also be that Barcelona’s interest has distracted the young Spaniard, while his family’s return to live in his homeland will also have unsettled him.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain overhauled him as first-choice in the right wing-back role last term, before leaving to join Liverpool, and Reiss Nelson has been the only alternative used this term, although the 17 year-old is not best suited to the position, nor does he have the experience or guile to be unleashed on the regular as of yet.
In the close-season, Maitland-Niles was believed to have been called up to the senior squad on a permanent basis, and with him being right-footed, you would assume he would be able to transition from the left-back role to challenge Bellerin for his spot.
Former England international Danny Murphy was full of praise for AMN, singling him out on his display.
“He impressed me massively,” he said on Match of the Day.
“He played left-back in a four, Arsenal changed it and I still don’t know if he’s left-footed or right-footed.
“He was so comfortable on both, calm. Every time he got in these areas he didn’t panic and he always picked out a decent ball.
“Defensively we didn’t see him too much today because they dominated the game for long periods but he didn’t look uncomfortable at any time.
“His pace was good, he never dived in too often in terms of going to ground so I was really impressed with him.
“Each time he got up there I was thinking come on can he do it again. He just calmly takes his time.
“I haven’t seen enough of him to say if this is his best position or if he can play as right-back as well but tonight, left-back in a four, he played really really well.
“I think Arsenal looked better in that shape too and were a bit unlucky really, although West Ham did well.”
Does Bellerin need resting or challenging for his role? Does AMN deserve a first-team role? Could he challenge Kolasinac for his place in the side?