There were a number of standout performances in Arsenal’s win at Wolves. While Bukayo Saka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette deservedly got the headlines, one player that impressed in a limited role was Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
The 22-year-old product of Arsenal’s Academy came on for Kieran Tierney in the 56th minute and was tasked with containing Wolves’ dangerous winger Adama Traore, who was causing significant problems coming out of halftime. He did just that — shut him down, and afterwards received a lot of (deserved) praise from Arsenal fans on Twitter.
I take back the mean thing I said about Ainsley Maitland-Niles when asked his best position. Kid has shown the will, determination, and effort to be a team player. I am ecstatic to be wrong. Shows how great an influence Arteta is on the young men. Love it.— Inveterate Recalcitrant (@TWRuble14) July 5, 2020
I know it’s not his natural position, but if Ainsley Maitland-Niles accept his new role as a full back he can play a big part in Arsenals future. He proved his worth as a fullback this season, allowing our wingers to flourish in the process. Definitely worth keeping if he adapts. pic.twitter.com/3p3uP3Tl6z— Pépé is a ⚪️ (@NotYourWinger) July 4, 2020
It will now be interesting to see whether Maitland-Niles stays at Arsenal or is sold. Prior to the stop in play he had fallen out of favor with Mikel Arteta for turning up late for training several times. He lost his place in the squad, and the manager warned him that he needed to work harder to get back into the team. It wasn’t ever really about right back and Maitland-Niles supposedly not wanting to play there that was a red-herring.
In March, Arteta was asked to explain why Maitland-Niles had not featured for the Gunners in recent weeks. He stated, “Ainsley needs to put his head down and work hard, show me every day in training that he wants it more than anyone else, he wants to play for this club and fight for his place”
When play resumed last month, reports were circulating that the player was considered dispensable and Arsenal were looking to sell him to help fund a new contract for Aubameyang.
Since the restart, Maitland-Niles has come on as a second half substitute in three league matches and played the entire 90 minutes of the Gunners’ 2-1 FA Cup victory at Sheffield
In a recent interview with The Mirror, Maitland-Niles expressed his desire to be a part of Arsenal’s new generation of home grown talent. This group includes Saka, Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith-Rowe.
He explained his commitment to the club and the manager.
It doesn’t bother me what people label me as because I think the management know themselves. OK I was late, maybe once during this manager’s time. It was a mistake, I spoke to the manager and put my hands up and took the consequences.
Maitland-Niles insists he is happy to play wherever called upon by Arteta:
I would play right-back every week if I had to. I am not really fussed. The main thing is being out there with the team and helping them win games. If the manager says to me ‘Ains you gotta go in goal this game I will put the gloves on, and I am ready to rock n roll.
As for past reports that he is averse to playing at right back, Maitland-Niles added,
That’s where some people may have misjudged what I said before in a different interview. Obviously, I do prefer playing central midfield but that is not to say that I don’t want to play right-back or that I’m not going to do the job there if the manager asks me to.
So, what are your thoughts on Maitland-Niles? Does he have a future at the club or should he be sold to raise funds to sign other players?