Once Hector Bellerin got injured in January, Arsenal fans couldn’t help but prepare for the absolute worst.
Already in midst of defensive crisis, losing the primary right-back meant they had to rely on their reserves, something not many fans were confident to do considering the wider struggles of the team.
Stephen Lichsteiner had nightmares and Shkodran Mustafi’s was also wobbly, but the player who’s risen up the ranks is Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Originally a winger, Unai Emery moulded the youngster into a successful wing-back by working on improving his defensive skills.
As a potential wonderkid, Maitland-Niles’ reputation down the wings was already well-known and his adventurous style suits Emery’s high-voltage one perfectly.
A risk which has paid off, the 21-year-old development under Emery’s among Arsenal’s stories of the season. At a period where transitioning from a winger to a wing-back can have a catastrophic result, the Ilford-born academy graduate worked really hard to hold his own.
The make-shift right wing-back’s best came against Manchester United, who had danced their way into tormenting Arsenal in the FA Cup fixture earlier on. However, like the side, the youngster had learnt his lesson and did a great job in keeping Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial quiet.
Indeed, he made 4 interceptions, 2 tackles and 3 ball recoveries (stats via Fotmob), while also making some glaring runs forward.
However, he’d receive a great share of the spotlight a few nights later. Maitland-Niles shone through in Arsenal’s terrific turnaround against Rennes, playing a part in creating the first before scoring the second with a thumping header.
He’s perfected the transition into his new position and has added new-found vibrancy to Arsenal’s game with his compelling work.
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