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Ainsley Maitland-Niles could be the surprise answer to Arsenal’s winger woes

Arsenal cruised to a 3-0 win over League One side Blackpool in an FA Cup third round clash at Bloomfield Road on Saturday. 19-year-old academy product Joe Willock notched his first senior career brace whilst Alex Iwobi also found the back of the net to secure safe passage to the next round of the cup for the Gunners.

Willock was far from the only young prospect Unai Emery was able to afford precious game time to either. Eddie Nketiah and Ainsley Maitland-Niles were also in the starting XI, whilst Zech Medley and Bukayo Saka both featured from the bench.

Aside from Willock, Maitland-Niles in particular shone for the north Londoners.

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Already a well-established member of the squad, Maitland-Niles is yet to nail down a regular starting spot at the Emirates Stadium as his versatility has seen him instead used in various parts of the pitch as a utility option.

Whilst such a player is useful for any manager to have at his disposal, it is vital that the 21-year-old makes a single position his own soon, for the sake of his own development and career.

Against the Seasiders, the England under-21 international was deployed on the right-wing, despite having most often featured as a full-back this season.

However, the youngster impressed in his wide attacking berth, and was confident on the ball going forward. He ought to have had an assist on two occasions too when he set up simple chances for Nketiah in the early exchanges of the match.

He did, though, manage to record two key passes and two dribbles – as many as any other Arsenal player in both instances. He also excelled in performing his defensive duties, making five tackles and two interceptions – more than any of his teammates in both cases.

He’s far from the finished article as a winger, of course, and was caught in possession all too often. He also committed five unsuccessful touches, whilst his pass accuracy rating of 78 per cent left plenty of room for improvement. Overall, though, the signs that he might be able to flourish in this part of the pitch were encouraging.

The Gunners are understocked in the wide areas and may well seek to bolster their wing contingent in this January transfer window. Should no suitable targets come to fruition though, Maitland-Niles could prove a surprise internal solution to this issue, something that Emery already appears to recognise. 

Article title: Ainsley Maitland-Niles could be the surprise answer to Arsenal’s winger woes

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