Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Con) is back in full training and in contention for the Leicester game on Monday. Perhaps Monday will come too early for the lad but away to Sporting a few days later could see him return. The question I was asking myself is, ‘what will Unai see as his strengths and eventual starting position?’. Let’s take a look.
Ainsley recently turned 21 and has been with the Club since he was 6 years old, another Mr Arsenal! He made Champions League and Prem debuts in late 2014. The following season he spent on loan at Ipswich, making 32 appearances and scoring 2 goals. Mick McCarthy was initially full of praise but used him less as the loan period drew to a close. (Update: It’s rumoured McCarthy received an X-rated voicemail from Ainsley’s Mum about some kit launch or something which left the poor lad out in the cold, selection-wise – she’s a right box of tricks…..)
Returning to Arsenal, in September 2016 he featured at right back at the City Ground in the EFL cup and we cruised to a 4-0 victory (a game I was lucky enough to be at). His next start the following January was in an FA Cup 4th round match at Southampton where he played in central midfield (we won 5-0 and, again, I was there for another belting away trip 🙂 ).
Here he is, assisting the assister at St Mary’s ………..
The days when the thing Ainsley was most famous for was an incident involving his Mum allegedly lamping Dick Law at the Arsenal training ground are long gone. Arsene’s final season saw him establish himself as a versatile member of the first team squad, clocking up 15 Prem and 9 Europa League appearances, amongst others.
Wiki describes Maitland-Niles as a midfielder, winger and right full back but he’s also been used at left back when the need has arisen. At just under 5’10” and a shade over 11 stone, he is still developing the strength required to play in the rough and tumble of the English top flight. Having started Arsenal’s first match of this season against Abu Dhabi FC in the left back position, he broke his left fibula when that fat, ex-spud Kyle Walker sat on him.
So, what position does he play? His blistering pace contributed to him being used as a winger in his early career and has also proved useful in his coverage of the flanks when playing at full back. He is good in the tackle, reads the game well and his great engine would appear to make him perfect wingfender material. However, Ainsley’s stated preferred position is midfield and you can easily see how his manoeuvrability and comfortable ease in possession could make him perfect in the centre.
More importantly, what position does Unai Emery think he’s best suited to?
One thing’s for sure, he’ll be clear about what is expected of him when he does get a game. It should be really exciting finding out how Unai gets the best out of him.