When fans found out that Hector Bellerin was out for the rest of the season, it looked like the end of the good times this season. Three months later, and it couldn’t be any different.
The injury of Bellerin has allowed another Arsenal player to take up the mantle as the right-back of the team, and in doing so establish themselves as a first-team player going into the business end of the season, that player being Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
The Hale End academy product has been in and out of the Arsenal team since his breakthrough in the side last season, where he normally played as a left-back, but the versatile prospect has now been given another shot to impress in the Gunners’ first-team, and Maitland-Niles has taken the opportunity with both hands.
The 21-year-old impressed against Manchester United, scored against Stade Rennais, and looks likely to retain his starting position in the starting XI for the remainder of the season, but what does the future hold for Maitland-Niles?
Although he has played most of his first-team football as a fullback, Maitland-Niles has stated in the past that his natural position is central midfield, and although the England U-21 international has thrived as both a left and right-back, Unai Emery would be smart to play the youngsters demands and play him in the heart of the midfield.
Maitland-Niles has all the physical and technical qualities to succeed in central midfield, being a creative spark for Arsenal’s U-23 side and already being able to show in the first-team he is a player who can create chances out on the wing.
With Aaron Ramsey leaving for Juventus and Emery on the hunt for a replacement, Maitland-Niles could be the answer the Spaniard is looking for if he is willing to take a risk and play him in central midfield next season.
The 21-year-old would be a very exciting option for Emery in the middle of midfield as he’s already caused plenty of problems with his pace at the Emirates, as well as showing he can score goals and spray the ball about.
But with the likes of Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi impressing from this position next season, Maitland-Niles might find it difficult to break into the first-team in this position with such a competitive area of the pitch already there.
Maitland-Niles will likely be at Arsenal for a long time, but if Emery is to get the best out of him, he must be willing to take a gamble and play him in the middle of the park even if that means disrupting more senior figures in the side.
Arsenal fans, where does Maitland-Niles fit in the future of Arsenal? Let us know!
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