Where should Arsenal use Maitland-Niles next season?

The big question: where should Ainsley Maitland-Niles play next season? by Timi

Arsenal have two positions free for him and he is more than a decent option in both at the meagre age of 21, just two years out of his teens. He’s shown incredible promise in both positions and the character to play for the first team. If Unai Emery returns to a back four next season, the midfield box-to-box position is open. Hector Bellerin is injured and will probably not return to full strength until half the season is gone. We don’t have enough money (according to reports) to adequately fill either among our other pressing needs. Both are very vital to how the coach wants us to play. Which would it be?

To answer this question is to examine the priorities of the squad. This cannot be done without the context of how the coach wants the team to play. Which, most likely, is in a hybrid of the 4-2-3-1 he used at Sevilla or the more modern 4-3-3 he used at Paris Saint-Germain.

For both systems, we need wide attackers who can do a convincing job of stretching the field, beating their man, the offside trap, and combining with fullbacks-cum-wingbacks bombing forward to overlap. Currently, we have none in the first team. We managed with using Welbeck, Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan and mostly Iwobi out wide. None is a pure wide attacker, with Iwobi being the closest thing to one. Reiss Nelson largely plays out wide and he is returning to the club after a fantastic loan season at Hoffenheim. He is expected to challenge Iwobi for the starting spot on the left and/or be moved to the right side. In any case, Reiss is not enough cover. We desperately need to get one wide attacker, at least.

We also conceivably need to plug in the left-back position which has an unreliable Sead Kolasinac and a rapidly ageing Nacho Montreal. Then bring in some new blood into the centre of our defense which is currently as soft as cheese. We have further shallower holes in midfield and right-back and that is where a question of priority comes in as regards to the future of Ainsley.

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He emerged as a good midfielder in his teens but since then, he’s virtually spent all his time covering in either fullback position to great effect. Last season, he has emerged as a fairly reliable player despite his age. If he does continue at where he is, he could eventually have to go back to the bench once Hector Bellerin (who himself is still developing and adding new dimensions to his game) returns. Hector Bellerin is currently better, but Ainsley appears to have a higher potential defensively and can even be more dynamic in his attacking play, what with his ability to dribble and fake his way past a player who is covering him, on top of a nice through pass in him. Case in point: he has dribbled and completed more key passes this season than Bellerin while playing less. This side to Ainsley Maitland-Niles is apparent in his opening goal against Liverpool at Anfield; you barely could imagine Bellerin making such a piercing box run like that and sticking out his foot to guide the ball into the net as though the state of the world depended on it. For the Napoli assist, there is something about the way he remained in the box while Ozil filled in out wide to give him the pass which he turned at once to Lacazette. It speaks volumes of an extra dimension to his own attacking play while he’s already better than Bellerin in making a tackle, blocking a run or a cross.

The midfield is more dicey. It’s complicated by the fact that it has been a while since he played there and, though he still has the abilities that make it his natural position, he is not exactly irreplaceable. Emery could stick Guendouzi in the box-to-box role for instance or Joe Willock, who is already notable for his piercing runs forward, though not yet known for being a great defender in the middle. Or we could simply get cover in another player which would take out of our budget. Ainsley has shown real promise in the middle and could develop even further there than at right-back. Already, last season, he has shown good ability to get in the box and be a danger in it despite playing out wide and back. He could nurture this trait better in the middle where it would be part of his job and, ultimately, deliver better on his talent than in the defense.

It is more likely that Ainsley continues in defense because if he doesn’t, it surely means we would have to get a new right-back who can hold the position well until Bellerin returns (hence the links to Kimmich). Spending on an additional new player in today’s transfer market would severely restrict our ability to get other players in other positions, unless the bank is broken for an all out reinforcement of the squad.

I wouldn’t be against Ainsley continuing developing at the back were it not for the existence of Bellerin. All I want is regular time for the lad to play his football so we can reap the benefits when he fulfills his undoubted promise. Bellerin represents an obstacle to that.

The Solution
Unai Emery should play Ainsley in the box-to-box role during the preseason tour — see how fantastic he does. If he looks great, he should just literally beg the management to get a bit more funds to procure a decent right-back. If Ainsley performs poorly in the position, well, that concludes the issue. He will have to fight Bellerin for the spot (and maybe we can work out a solution in the near future, depending on who is clearly better by then).

NEXT - Arsenal preparing a £12 Million swoop for 22-year-old striker

The Birdcatcher needs regular game time to reach the upper limits of his abilities and it is up to the coach and the management to give him that, whether in the middle or out on the right side of the back four.


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          1. So Kev, he’s not yet actually SIGNED for Arsenal yet?

            As you can see from aMoistMuffin’s question, many here regard you as a pathetic attention seeker who doesn’t mind writing rubbish if you think it’s a chance to get yourself in the limelight for 5 minutes.

            Unfortunately there are still some on here who still think you have some idea what you are doing. Pretty sure they’ll come round in the end – even Gotanidea.

          2. Not according to the Scottish Sun, they say Napoli have now made a higher bid.Also no confirmation from tomorrow’s Sun, The Mirror, The Mail, The Express, The Star, The Telegraph. The Times, The Guardian, The Beano, The Dandy, The Eagle etc, etc, etc

  1. If not for the fact that playing in the first team would help him learn from his mistakes I would’ve counted last season as a wasted season for AMN.I wpuld’ve preferred him to learn more from the CM position.
    I wondered why Jordi Osei-Tutu an actual RB from the academy wasn’t given his chance over him.Niles was very impressive last season for a player who is naturally not a RB.He could cross and attack very well but his positional sense was terrible as expected since he wasn’t a RB.I wished he was given the chance at CM over Xhaka and Guendouzi because I believe has the ability to develop into a good CM and has the needed tools and quality to become a starter for Arsenal.I rate him highly along with Nketiah,Kelechi Nwaklai,Nelson and Bielik.Hopefully we see them improving more next season with more playing time

  2. In as much as it is commendable to groom talent and appreciate every good effort from a young lad such as AMN, but the young fella is juss as porous and mistake prone as Carl jerkinson, or maybe a slight edge over Carl. He is an everage player who was just overrated at a young age. He makes costly mistakes most of the time and remember Wenger brought this boy into Senior team in 2016. He should be way ahead of his current level and composure. Just send the kid on loan. I feel xhaka can do a better job in the fullback while torrera and the marvelous Martheo marshal the midfield.he ain’t good enough for box to box, CDM or fullback yet. He is too ambitious at times due to lack of experience and precision in his artwork. A loan will benefit him

    1. Leo,, what the f**k are you smoking geez,, Xhaka better football player than Maitland Niles?? You’ve lost all credibility with that idiotic nonsensical statement. Arsenal’s recent problems on the pitch started in 2016 when Xhaka arrived.

      1. Ain’t smoking no sh*t man but its too say amongst the worst players who have been deployed to wingback out of their position, the boy AMN was outstandingly pathetic than when the error prone xhaka deputised kolas at left back in those few games.AMN is simply overrated.

    2. AMN on the subs bench for the League Cup and that is his natural place.Nowhere in the senior team. And regarding Xhaka, he should be learning the game with the U23, that is where I see him. Kolas should be learn the skill of defending with the U21. Elneny, Jenks, Mustafi need to compete with the U18s before even making it to the training ground. Iwobi should be sent out on loan to an attack minded team (Wolves/ Watford) before becoming our regular. Ozil needs to up his game, either meet a physiotherapist or a sports councilor. Kos and Nacho need to return to a slower league. Leno, Guendozi, Auba and Laca make the grade. And if this trash continues, be prepared for a top 10 finish. Seriously we need Tierney, CB, RB, midfield. This time our targets are right, the offers are not. No communication about Tierney, Praet, Anderson, Saliba keeps me worried.

  3. Xhaka at full back? the immobile Xhaka or the expert in giving ball away Xhaka? Pls which of the Xhaka, I had really love to know the Xhaka you are talking off.

    1. Leo said xhaka may do a better job that AMN at full back, not to say xhaka is a fit. Xhaka deputised the left back for kolas and monreal and only made one penalty blunder against pallace at Emirates. AMN is juss worse period, football is football

  4. We have just sent a very decent young right back out on loan to a Germany second division team!
    I sometimes really wonder if the Arsenal management team know what they are doing.

  5. Celtic have now confirmed the signing of Boli Mbombo, Kieran Tierney’s replacement

    Tierney is a Gunner!!!

    1. It’s not on Arsenal.com yet so no he’s not.
      How can he be as we haven’t had an offer accepted yet?

  6. I posted a reply to Leo’s comment on his suggestion that Xhaka be used as a full back. The comment has now been deleted, it’s rubbish if this is how this site is run, just because you are admin isn’t a justification to delete people’s comments if they go against your views. Silly action, very silly.

    1. I have no idea why your comment was deleted unless it contains something against the rules but to automatically start having a go at Admins is not the best way to lodge a complaint. The admins allow 99% of comments even when we get attacked as long as it stays within the rules.

      1. Is talking garbage against the rules because we get so much of it from Kev that maybe should censor him. It’s quite possible that one of his 100 predictions will finally be correct then we won’t hear the end of it. Law of averages

        1. Too risky. I may break those rules with my articles on occasion as I am so often reminded. So garbage is not against the rules for now.

  7. Box 2 Box CM backup and League/FA Cup matches
    I’m still hoping we will get another quality CM

  8. Play him wherever we want, he gets paid a reasonable salary so Arsenal Football Club has the right to use him wherever they need to.

    However, for me he is not a starter, unless players are injured or off form.

    I have it on good authority that Emery and Ozil have kissed and made up and they have discussed changing ozil position, much like Santi Cazorla’s successful move to deep lying playmaker.

    This currently would mean Ozil fighting Xhaka for a place alongside Torreira.

    Similarly, Emery has discussed where Mkhitaryan fits in his plans in a 433 formation this could see Miki playing his old Dortmund role of right forward, with Aubameyang playing Left forward. However should Arsenal sign Zaha, Miki will be fighting Aubameyang for a place on the right.

    Without any new signings this would be Emery’s first choice starting line up IMO.

    Bellerin Sokratis Holding Kola
    Guendozi Torreira Xhaka
    Mkhitaryan Lacazette Aubameyang

    Second x1
    Jenkinson Mustafi Koscielny Nacho
    Maitland-niles Chambers Ozil
    Nelson Nketiah Iwobi

    But I am now fully expecting Tierney, Zaha, brahimi and Cahill to join Martinelli and Hillson as our summer signings.
    With Ospina, Macey, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Elneny and Asano departing

    Also hearing that Edu is working hard to bring Alves with him to nurture Martinelli and add cover for Bellerin.

  9. Why can’t we accept that Niles is just another over rated English lad have we not seen enough of him to know that for sure

  10. have said it several time, Amn is jess an overrated lad, a player who don’t know his prefer position, I laugh at those who protest he should be used at the midfield, Can Wenger and Emery so foolish to use him in the same position, when people keep clamouring he’s better at the middle?
    maybe is versatility can make him stay longer at the club but not has a first eleven player.

  11. “Oh ye of little faith”.Those of you who cannot see what a talent AMN is have little appreciation of what skills are required to become a professional footballer.Like Iwobi who is also slagged off on a regular basis,AMN has been obliged to play out of position because of injuries or lack of adequate cover.This lad can really make the grade as a box to box midfielder and the sooner he is given the opportunity in this position the better for all concerned.I cannot believe the negativity surrounding MAN and Iwobi.They are two of our most sellable assets which is more than can be said for our trio of poor quality centre backs and for that matter Xhaka and Kolasinac who are collectively and individually the reason why we are on the decline.

  12. I hope AMN becomes a bigger player like kosc as he costed us europa league as Kosc did in 2011.

  13. I like AMN. He plays out his heart, always running. He will never be a world beater, but you can’t fault him for lack of dedication and commitment. He makes costly mistakes, but he will learn from them and improve. His versatility will always mean he will make a good squad depth player. He is on cheap salary and won’t fetch much when sold. A home grown talent as well.
    I say we should keep him. The criticism he and Iwobi receives here is unfair. They are both good squad depth players, it isn’t their faults that they are being thrown in as regular starters because of poor investments in quality signings by Arsenal.

  14. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. I frequently visit this blog but today is the first time i post a comment thanks to this article. Well done Timi, more of the same please. Analysing the players we have and the gaps in the squad make for better reading than just baseless roumors.

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