Arsenal will face Burnley on Saturday in their second Premier League game of the season after beating Newcastle 1-0 last week. Ainsley Maitland-Niles had a fantastic performance, particularly going forward, but he will need to be just as adept moving in the other direction if the Gunners are to prevail against the Clarets.
Maitland-Niles was arguably Arsenal’s best player against the Toon, recording an 8.40 WhoScored rating. In attack, he successfully completed four dribbles, more than any of his teammates, and he also created the only goal of the game, which was scored by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The Gunners should have the lion’s share of possession in their next match, and the 21-year-old will be expected to provide once again offensively. But he will also need to keep his wits about him at the other end of the pitch, as Burnley could target his side in their attempts to get on the scoresheet.
Last season, 41% of all of Burnley’s attacks came down their left flank, compared to 26% through the middle and 33% down the right. They put in a lot of crosses – 18 per game to be exact – and they look to exploit the left side of the pitch the most.
That area of the field has already been used to great affect this season. The Lancashire outfit started the campaign with a positive result against Southampton, beating the Saints 3-0 at Turf Moor. New signing – and new left-back – Erik Pieters hit the ground running for his new team, assisting two of the three strikes. The second one should be on Unai Emery and Maitland-Niles’ minds in particular; the former Stoke City defender was given far too much time to pick out Ashley Barnes in the middle.
Dwight McNeil, the Clarets’ 19-year-old left-winger, also started his season in impressive fashion, registering a 7.91 WhoScored rating for his performance. Along with Pieters, Maitland-Niles will his have his work cut out to stop them both if he does not concentrate on his defensive duties at the Emirates Stadium.
Throw summer signing Pepe’s potential first start into the equation as well, and it could be a very tricky afternoon for Arsenal’s young utility man.