What does Ainsley Maitland-Niles have to do in order to get a start?
The now England international was languishing on the subs bench, rather than going on to strengthen his grip on international presence. Before choosing to go out on loan
Was it down to his versatility that Mikel Arteta chose to use him sparingly?
Was it because of his success as a deputy full-back that saw his chances in central midfield so sparse?
Because to the majority of us Gooners, AMN has done everything in his power to show he is more than ready for a starring role in Arsenal’s engine room.
Especially when you consider who is getting the majority of starts.
Let’s rewind a tad. Let’s go back to the tail-end of last season, so interrupted by the pandemic. We first defeated Manchester City 2-0 in the FA Cup semi-final. Ainsley Maitland-Niles was used as a wing-back in this game, and his effervescence was one of the main reasons why Arteta eclipsed his former tutor Pep Guardiola on the big day. AMN’s energy and his ability to cover both defensively and as an attacking outlet at the right times meant City were stretched, and were thwarted down our left flank.
Then, the big one. The FA Cup Final against a Chelsea side who had finished above us. Most didn’t give us a sniff, but Arteta pulled off a masterstroke with his utilisation of AMN. The first half was a masterclass of what desire and impetus can achieve. Our England starlet was not to be contained by Chelsea’s defensive efforts, and he was a driver in Arsenal being able to come back from a goal deficit. Watch back those first 45 minutes. AMN was constantly on the ball and constantly on the front foot. From defence, we always had a forward option as AMN was making runs that required a defender to track. That created space and we used it wisely.
AMN was rightly capped, and this season promised so much. When Arteta began to use Mo Elneny and Granit Xhaka constantly this season, we all thought it would be a matter of time before Maitland-Niles would get the start he so deserves. Especially when we look at the static nature of play that Elneny especially provides. This isn’t to say the Egyptian isn’t reliable. He tracks back and gives his all in every game.
But AMN gives us something more. He transitions us by carrying the ball forward. He doesn’t try the long ball, he IS the long ball. He gets possession and drags the team forward.
This is not an overstatement either. Every game he has played in the last season, AMN has been that outlet, and he has shown that energy.
Both things we could have done with badly during our first half of this season.
So with our midfield stuttering without Thomas Partey, and those that are playing underperforming – why didnt AMN gett the minutes?
Put yourself in his shoes. If you were Ainslie, would you be considering greener pastures? He wasn’t far away from a move to Wolves this summer – and he wouldn’t look out of place in a bigger side.
Just look at Man Utd right now. A mainstay of their midfield is Scott McTominay. A kid who has guts and a good shot, as well as a decent engine. But he doesn’t have what AMN can bring.
We have a gem on our hands and we are going to let him slip away – and he would be well within his rights to seek a departure.
Arsenal would have let another talented youngster get away – and we would definitely rue this one.
Mikel – give the kid a run next season. You did the same with Emile Smith-Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli. AMN wouldn’t let you down.