Hector Bellerin return is a challenge that Ainsley Maitland-Niles has to confront
Personally, this writer has always rated Ainsley Maitland-Niles. He is an immense, if not exciting, talent. People severely underrate what it took for the 22-year-old to adapt to a new position and make it his own. First at left-back, then at right-back. The only reason Niles has been so successful at filling up those holes in the squad is because of his athleticism, confidence and his extremely sharp football instincts and IQ. It might be unpopular but according to his performance data from last season, Ainsley Maitland-Niles performed seriously well for a makeshift fullback.
This season began with a bang from him. It is difficult to forget Ainsley Maitland-Niles turning on the turbo to steal a sloppy pass from Newcastle’s Jetro Williems and send over to Aubameyang for the winning goal. But like most of the squad, his performances began to decline. The more he seemed to be lacking, the more impatient fans grew with him. Until Calum Chambers eventually took his spot.
Arteta came and immediately gave Ainsley Maitland-Niles a new lease of life. Playing as an inverted fullback in the midfield, Arteta allowed Niles to showcase his basic midfielder qualities while locking down the right wing. In fact, for many, he was the most impressive player under the new coach.
But Hector Bellerin, struggling with an injury issue, was always lurking in the background. Apart from the fact that he is one of the team captains, Bellerin is a very good right-back. He would pose a serious threat to the new-found stability Ainsley had enjoyed under Arteta. The only issue might be his potential loss of pace.
Against Chelsea, Hector Bellerin dismissed those doubts and showed why it would always be a tough task to displace him from the squad. As much as Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been great under Arteta, Hector Bellerin might be even better in terms of experience and leadership on the field and off it. And that is Ainsley’s dilemma, his battle to fight.
Top teams always have competition for places in their team and it is a benefit. It keeps everyone on their toes, everyone focused and doing their best. And we should very much welcome this new rivalry between Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Hector Bellerin.
An article by Agboola Israel