Ainsley Maitland-Niles is Still Important
Everybody knows about Ainsley Maitland-Niles now and how Arteta has been using him as an inverted fullback (or a false midfielder). Everyone remembers his stellar upturn in form.
But when your competition is the team’s captain who is an academy product like you and has returned from injury to complete a stunning comeback at Stamford Bridge, you can never rest easy. Especially when the right winger who costs €72 million also desperately needs an attacking fullback to support him and your captain fits that profile much better than you do.
Hector Bellerin’s return to the starting eleven was only a matter of time and Maitland-Niles, who has since lost his place, must consider himself hard done by. He has given his all this season but he’s still without a fully defined role: rightback, leftback, wingback, wide midfield, defensive midfield, and central midfield. Ainsley can play it all.
With the intentional addition of Cedric Soares to rightback depth, it looks like it would take some miracle for Niles to return to that position. In other words, Arteta’s use of him as an inverted fullback might not be a fundamental part of our tactics going forward. Perhaps the goal is to create the same attacking dynamic that we have on the left with Kolasinac/Saka on the right also with Bellerin/Soares also.
If then, we must all understand how important Ainsley would be going forward. To have a player who can slot in across several positions across the pitch is of huge significance. James Milner is an excellent example of this at Liverpool. Injuries and suspensions are part of football and such versatile players only give the coach more options to consider in the pursuit of victory.
Ainsley could be our Milner, as far as versatility goes, and that is a very important role in modern association football.