Ainsley Maitland-Niles

I have to admit that Ainsley Maitland-Niles is my favorite young player on this Arsenal team. It’s a crowded field to choose from. Arsenal have given time to a lot of talented players, like “The Jeff”, Reiss Nelson, Gedion Zelalem, and Eddie Nketiah over the last 12 months but I can’t help choose AMN as my favorite because I have a soft spot for defenders.

More than just a traditional defender, Maitland-Niles has wonderful touch, he seems to be able to control any pass sent his way, and he’s also fast as a comet – I’ve seen him track down speedy forwards with a 15 yard lead on him. I’m sure it’s a controversial choice: he’s not quite the silky smooth midfield wriggler that The Jeff or Reiss Nelson are and he’s not a splashy goal scorer like Nketiah. He’s just a talented kid who works hard and does what the manager asks of him.

Ainsley wants to be a central midfielder but Wenger has only played him there briefly. Most of the time he’s been relegated to the right back or even the left back positions. Playing left back as a right footed player is alone enough to make me like a player. That Wenger has confidence in him to play him at left back, with the profligate ball waster Alexis in front of him, is a huge sign that Wenger has the highest confidence in this young man, going so far as to call him “the future”.

“I believe he is the future. He can play left back, right back, central midfield. Of the three positions, maybe the least natural for him is left back, but he adapts very quickly and is a good defender. He has that sense of one against one, he is very strong, he is very quick, he has very quick recovery runs when he comes back. He has some aspects to learn: experience and he has to work on his heading. But overall, what he has done in the last three days is positive.”

Meanwhile, what happened to the Jeff? An ankle injury at the end of last season has kept him sidelined and he has yet to feature for Arsenal this season. And Zelalem suffered a knee injury this summer and has also been out. Both players should start getting playing time again soon.

Today, Arsenal play West Ham in the taurine cup. Stats are all out the window for these types of games because I never know who’s going to play. I’m hoping to see Maitland-Niles given a chance in the central midfield role but judging by Arsene Wenger’s latest comments he’s probably never going to get that chance and will instead be asked to play right back, or even left back again.

Here’s hoping he and the rest of the youngsters have a great game.



  1. My question is, what did Kolasinac do wrong? And who will be playing left back against Liverpool on Friday? Mo Salah has been destroying every left back he has come up against this season.

    1. Kolasinac is to my eyes a very poor defender. Has zero interest in getting back to defend when the ball passes him out. He could have prevented goals against City and United.

    2. I think it’s because Kolasinac doesn’t play conservative enough and Kolasinac is a terrible passer as well. I think Wenger will look for passing stability in the back line along with the fact that AMN has a huge speed advantage over Kolasinac.

      I’m in favor of this choice.

  2. Wenger has played Wilshere and Ramsey wide to further their education, or to make sure they get game time. I think that’s smart. It makes a player more rounded. Jurgen Klopp said something like (and I paraphrase), playing “out of position” is overstated. An educated footballer should be able to adapt. Of course, you wouldn’t put Messi in goal or in central defence, but you get my drift. The much loved Santi whose absence from the deep midfield gooners are mourning, was actually played out of his usual position by playing there. And it worked marvelously.

  3. Our starting eleven tonight:

    The Jeff, nelson & Nketiah are on the bench

    1. Yep.
      My prediction: we go back to 3-4-3 with Mustafi replacing Iwobi from the Newcastle lineup. Alternatively, we stay with the 4-3-3 from that game, but I think Mustafi’s likely coming straight back in, so Wenger would have to move Nacho to left back and drop AMN to the bench, which seems unlikely given that he wasn’t even on the bench against West Ham.

      I’m generally in favor of the 4-3-3 over the 3-4-3, but for Liverpool I actually think the back three could work, given that
      a) it’s the way we played when we played so well against Spurs, and Liverpool’s game is quite similar to Spurs’s
      b) we’re unlikely to dominate midfield against their 4-3-3 and their press, so switching to 3-4-3 gives up any pretense of trying and instead focuses on attacking down the flanks, and the back three playing long, low balls up to our world class front three
      c) we haven’t had enough time to perfect the 4-3-3, particularly with Jack back in the side and Ozil playing deeper in an unfamiliar midfield trio

      Only question is whether Jack and Xhaka have the legs to avoid getting completely overrun in there, or whether, if we’re seeking to play much more quickly from back to front, it even matters if we get overrun in central midfield. It’s any interesting one…

      I’d say we’ll probably lose badly to Liverpool, except our home form is miles better than our away form.

      1. I think its likely that he plays the exact lineup from the Newcastle game against Liverpool. I’m not sure what about Wenger makes you think he’ll slot Mustafi straight back in. Certainly, he’s our 2nd best central defender but I don’t think Wenger particularly rates him.

        I’d be very surprised if we saw the back 3 again anytime soon.

        1. That’s a definite possibility, but the fact that he stuck as long with the back three as he did suggests he likes the formation to some degree (he only abandoned it after Per struggled so badly to replace Mustafi), and I think, given the NLD and the FA Cup final (and even Chelsea away earlier this season) he might especially be drawn to it against big teams. We’ll see.

  4. Maybe Wenger is thinking about AMN in holding midfield to replace Xhaka? He is a more aggressive defender, a better dribbler, has an eye for offense and is 100x faster than Xhaka. Very confident on the ball. What can it hurt?

    1. I agree, but I don’t think he’s a more aggressive defender or physically strong enough just yet (though he’s got the natural athleticism, so he’ll get there), and I think the lack of experience means he’d probably make a few glaring errors in any high pressure games (Xhaka does this too, I know, but he also is very tidy with the ball most of the time; AMN has the ability, but in a big game e.g. against Liverpool, he’d be targeted and he might struggle).

      1. Xhaka is being used as a deep-lying playmaker, not a DM as such. It’s a very difficult job, everything is built on that player, they have to be practically faultless in possession, and we’ve all seen Xhaka struggle with it.

        If Xhaka is benched then Jack replaces him, and we see another box-to-box or utility midfielder come in alongside him. With Ramsey out that could be AMN but I would guess Elneny and Coq are ahead of him at the moment.

        1. Yes, though I’d suggest it’s more accurate to say Xhaka is being asked to play as a deep lying playmaker and DM all rolled into one, which is a very tall order. Since when was Pirlo ever asked to play without Gattuso, or Alonso without Khedira or Vidal, or Scholes without Carrick?

  5. Well let’s hope Wenger and Salah don’t conspire to ‘kill’ AMN on Friday. That would be typical of Wenger’s handling of youth over the last five years.

    Considering we are crying out for defensive midfielders, and are now playing three in central midfield, one wonders why he hasn’t tried something like AMN-Wilshere-Xhaka in midfield, with, you know, a proper left back at left back. We have two, after all, and a cohort of central defenders who can’t even get on the bench.

    1. Yeah, this is probably what I’d do in the games coming up, at least until Ramsey returns: 4-3-3 with Kola in for Iwobi (or Mustafi with Monreal at lb) and Ozil pushed further forward. But I don’t see AW doing that against Pool.

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