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Maitland-Niles – Worth A Shot?

The summer in football deals in absolutes. It is either a time filled with nothing other than spurious transfer rumours, or it has an international tournament – and spurious transfer rumours.

Either way, we all have to deal with more than our fair share of fake news. 

This gruesome conveyor belt of fabrication lives on thanks to the glimmer of hope that lives within every football fan. We all wait for that one story that actually has its origins steeped in veracity, for the fabled marquee signing which means next season is filled with more optimism than ever.

We all love it when new blood is transfused into our club. Talents from around the world with impressive pedigree’s and assets that can boost our fortunes. What is easy to forget is the precious stones we already have at our club.

The youth systems at every top-flight club are put under more and more strain as each campaign passes, and with each transfer into the club, another talented youngster must leave the club in order to grow as a player and achieve their potential. 

At what point do you begin to blood a player in the first team though – and forego a transfer?

Ainsley Maitland-Niles is a perfect example of this dilemma.

The 19 year old is back from his successful exploits in South Korea with the England U-20 side, where he helped the Young Lions lift the trophy.  Two seasons ago saw a baptism of fire as he spent the entire season on loan at Ipswich and earned more than rave reviews and plenty of gametime.

Last season was his first taste of Arsenal first team affairs since 2014 as a second half sub, and the youngster impressed at right-back in an EFL Cup match against Nottm Forest. It was his start against Southampton in an FA Cup 5-0 win though, that really alerted fans to his progress.

Despite his lack of years, Maitland-Niles seemed to grasp the first lesson most newbies need to learn before all else – do the simple things well. The 19 year old kept the Arsenal wheels greased with tidy possession, and broke up any attacks that the Saints attempted. Maitland-Niles’s performance belied his tender age.

His next appearance was a second half substitute, again in the FA Cup, but he was training with the first team, and this would no doubt help his development. He may have made a low amount of appearances, but he has not put a foot wrong when called upon. 

At what point does a youngster get the break he needs to jump to the next stage and fulfill the potential they have?

With Arsenal coming off of a disappointing season in the league, the pressure from the fanbase is for investment in a squad that underperformed. With Santi Cazorla also out for another five months, it would seem that midfield needs a fillip in the form of new blood.

Could that new blood be Maitland-Niles? Would a spot on the bench be perceived as a weakness in the squad, or can Maitland-Niles justify his elevated status? Let us not forget the kid’s flexibility in playing positions. He can play in the centre, on the right and on the right of defence, but can versatility harm his prospects?

The pre-season tour of Asia and Australia showed that versatility can mean he may get extra minutes on the pitch, but if Maitland-Niles can’t designate himself in either midfield or defence, will he be able to master either sufficiently? 

There will come a time when he must hold down one position, but Wenger is more than adept at buffing a jewel enough to see the real beauty inside. He will already have Maitland-Niles’s strengths in his mind and have a good idea where he can be best utilised.
The next step for the youngster is to continue to perform when called upon. He will have more chances this coming season, and if he does as well as he has been, then we may just have another gem on our hands a la Iwobi, Wilshere and Bellerin. 

Southampton 0-5 Arsenal: 5 Keypoints From the FA Cup Tie

Wow, talk about a contrast.

Last week we saw our full strength side scrap and scrape a 2-1 win over Burnley at home, thanks to a 97th minute penalty.

This week, we saw a supposed understrength side absolutely take Southampton to the cleaners in their own digs, to the tune of five unanswered goals.

As expected, Arsene Wenger made a host of changes for this tie – ten in total – before he left the team in the hands of his Assistant Manager Steve Bould. His four match ban after his dealings with the fourth official started with this match, and with an unfamiliar side named and a somewhat bogey side to face, things were looking dicey.

Claude Puel also rang the changes with ten differences from midweek, but he and his talented youngsters could not have foreseen what was to come. 

Arsenal fans rejoiced as their was the long-awaited first start since last season for Danny Welbeck, and he started up top. There was also an immediate return to action for the fit-again Theo Walcott, and both were to show they were worthy of inclusion.

Keiran Gibbs, Rob Holding, Lucas Perez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Maitland-Niles and The Jeff himself were all part of the side, and The Ox and Maitland-Niles formed an unusual central midfield pairing. They would face Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Jordie Clasie in the centre of the park – and absolutely boss it.

Arsenal started on the front foot, and it took only fifteen minutes for ‘Dat Guy’ to make his mark. He showed good control to take Lucas’s pass, and his high finish off the crossbar showed excellent composure. 

Seven minutes later, he had a brace. The source was The Ox this time, but the result was the same; good control and smart finish.

With ten minutes left, Arsenal killed the game. Super Danny Welbeck was again heavily involved, but he wasn’t the finisher. He instead showed great awareness to cross for the lurking Theo Walcott for a close range finish.

There were more chances for the Gunners, and it seemed as if they would put the tie to bed before the half time whistle, but at half time, the score remained 3-0. The Saints were not at the races, but even if they were bang on form, Arsenal would have quelled their force.

The second half saw no revival, nor a collapse from the Gunners. It was again more of the same, as the away team kept their boot firmly on the jugular of the home side. They continued to create and run at Southampton, who had no answer to this incredible show of force. Danny Welbeck was withdrawn from the action on 64 minutes before he could grab a fairytale hat-trick, but there would be a treble in the game.

On 69 minutes, Theo grabbed his second. Alexis, a second half sub, picked him out in the box and a smart first time finish into the far corner gave Arsenal the fourth. Florian Gardos and Jack Stephens – the Saints centre-backs – were left spinning by the artistry of Lucas and Alexis, and the rampaging runs of Theo and Welbeck.

Theo grabbed his hat-trick and his 99th Arsenal goal, when Lucas’s ball from a Southampton attack found a running Alexis. He had two men on his tail, but he held up play until Theo was in the box. Another first time finish and he had the match ball. 

That was that, and Arsenal were emphatically through into the Fifth round of the Cup. Here are some hot talking points from the game;

Competition fires the side

This team, Theo aside, have been on the outskirts of the first eleven this season. They would have lacked rhythm, sharpness and cohesion. They showed that hunger is one of the most important traits of all, perhaps more so than the others aforementioned. They were all on fire and wanted to put on a show. Rotation may just be necessary as we have a large squad, but also because these players need to play to give a reminder to the manager.

Maximum effort gains reward

At 4-0 up and the game signed, sealed and delivered, Southampton started to foray into Arsenal territory. The sight that warmed my heart more than the goals and the win, more than anything really, was seeing The Ox and Theo chasing back to help out with the defending in their own box. It was these young men showing they had grown up and they want to play a big part and they are willing to put in the hard yards. This is exactly what we need.

Lucas is so effective

Eight starts, and eight times he has been involved directly in a goal. He grabbed an assist this time, and he looks so assured on the ball. His cool head and great touch should be utilised more often as the season progresses, and I’m confident he will not let us down. His assist for Welbeck was sumptuous.

Welbeck to play a big part 

Whenever he has put on our shirt, Welbeck has given his all. This is the reason why our fans universally adore him. His pace, his favouring of balls ahead of him rather than to feet, his touch and his defensive qualities make him a true asset. If his fitness holds, then he could very well nail down a starting spot. Even if he doesn’t start all the games, he will have a huge bearing on our season. Love you Welbz – and that celebration!

Holding holds his own again

What a prospect. He again showed nous way beyond his years in this performance. He will have tougher games, but he is looking every inch an England player for the future. If he continues this growth, then a starting spot for Arsenal when Koscielny steps down could be on the cards. One step at a time at the moment though. He needs to continue what he is doing, but you can’t fail to be excited by what he is capable of.

There was a lot going on during this set of ninety minutes, far more than the above. Particularly impressive was Ainslie Maitland-Niles starting in the centre. He seems to have the confidence of the boss after starting a few cup games this season, and he has a great touch, as well as physical strength for a slight frame. The Ox played well in the centre too, and he appears to have grown this season. 

Next up is a game against Watford on Tuesday, before we travel to Stamford Bridge in the weekend. Mesut Ozil, Petr Cech, Coquelin, Ramsey, and co. Be aware of the competition breathing down your neck, step it up like they have. 

Gunners Loanees – Who Will Prosper?

Originally posted on Goonersphere

Part and parcel of a footballer’s development is to take the acid test of first team football. Training ground scenarios and gleaning from fellow professionals is mandatory but these alone are not enough to complete a footballing education.

Experience of the frenetic nature and pressure of ninety minutes under the gaze of thousands of scrutinising eyes cannot be replicated. This means that the higher echelon of clubs who have a burgeoning scouting and youth system must choose the best option from a plethora, to guide and nurture.

The pitfalls can be career ending, but the rewards can be unbelievable. So the time that a Manager takes to decide where one of his young charges goes to further his tutelage can be considered some of the most important they will take. The player can become a club icon, a headline-grabber. Every step of their early years must be painstakingly planned out though. One wrong step and confidence can be dented, a dry spell on the pitch can see minutes on the pitch limited, which then could start a steep decline.

We’ve all seen it and lamented the death of talent. So with some of our highly rated young players out on loan – who has the best chance to shine?

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