The curious case of Ainsley Maitland-Niles by Bahiru Teka
Watching Arsenal’s domestic and Europa league campaign last season was like taking a drug that you no longer enjoy, but your mind and body had gotten so used to it, you just can’t help fend off the temptation so you take it anyways. At least that’s how it felt for me. But there was one thing I couldn’t help but enjoy watching and that was Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
When Arsene Wenger departed and Unai Emery became the new head coach, there was this wave of positivity that was galloping towards us Arsenal fans not just because a coach with an impressive CV had landed the job, it was the way he managed to get the job that made it impressive even more. As it was stated by the club’s head officials who dictated the interviews, Unai out shone the rest of the candidates mainly due to his in-depth of knowledge and analysis he had given about the squad and in particular his analysis on Maitland-Niles.
He was one of the very few standout players last season that was impressive enough when given the chance to play, and that became evident when we played against Man United at Old Trafford. We lost that game but the 21 year old midfielder put on an all-round great performance against the likes of Paul Pogba, in which after the final whistle the France International said something in his ear that seemed like a gesture of acknowledgement and appreciation for his display which I’m sure was flattering to hear for the young man, if that was the case.
Unfortunately he got off to a bad start during this season, got himself injured and ruled out for two months. It’s a frustrating thing to watch when an in-form player gets their momentum disrupted due to an injury, a scenario we got accustomed to watching long time ago as an Arsenal fan unfortunately. It’s clear that during his absence his standing in the squad has depreciated as the emergence of Matteo Guendouzi has replaced Niles as the resident gifted midfielder, and now suddenly he starts from scratch once again, becoming the player who fills in in a number of positions when needed (reminds me of Francis Coquelin) and Emery seems content in keeping it that way. That’s doesn’t mean he’s doomed to fail but it does put him at a severe disadvantage to those he is competing against for a game time.
Will he regain his form back now that he has a chance to play, even if it’s not his preferred position, and can he reintegrate himself back slowly, and make himself an integral part of the squad once again. He just needs to impress the coach and remind him again what he once saw in him?