Arsenal’s Ainsley Maitland-Niles says he is “still learning” defensively

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As Hector Bellerin returns to full fitness, Ainsley Maitland-Niles has told Sky Sports that his complete conversion to a right-back will “not come overnight” and that he is “still learning” defensively.

What did he say?

It has been a difficult year for Bellerin. Having ruptured his cruciate ligament in January, he has been on the sidelines ever since.

His absence has also been a huge inconvenience to Arsenal, especially with him being the only natural right-back on the books this season.

As such, Unai Emery has decided to use Maitland-Niles on the right-side of the defence, although that is not his natural position.

He also explained how the transformation to the new position will not happen overnight, saying, “It’s not where I would choose to put myself in the team, as I’m an attacking player by trade.

“That’s all I can try to bring to the team. I’m still learning the defensive side, so when players are running at me, and they’re throwing skills at me, I’m still learning how to deal with that.

“It’s not going to come overnight. If I was a defender as a kid, and my defending was poor, I would understand where the criticism is coming from, but I’m trying my best for the team and for the manager.”

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As good an option defensively as Bellerin

While the England Under-21 international may not be 100% confident in his ability to perform on the right side of the defence, he has not done too badly so far this campaign.

He has so far averaged a 7.17 WhoScored rating, which puts him third on the Arsenal list behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe.

Granted, his main strength comes in attack. So far this term, he already has two assists and has notched up an impressive 1.8 dribbles per game and 1.2 key passes per game, suggesting that he is also a strong creative influence.

However, his defensive ability is not as bad as he thinks, and it is hard to see much difference between himself and the Spain international. This season, Maitland-Niles has averaged 2.4 tackles and 2 interceptions per game. He also has 2.6 clearances per appearance too.

Bellerin may have been unable to feature this year, but that didn’t stop him making 18 Premier League starts last term, and in those games, his defensive performance was nothing to be proud of. He averaged just 0.8 tackles per match, as well as 1.1 interceptions and 1.7 clearances. In all three of these statistics, he was behind the youngster.

Understandably, the Emirates outfit’s number 15 is apprehensive of his perceived weaknesses, but he really shouldn’t be at all.

The stats show that there is little between the two, and Arsenal’s mixed start shouldn’t be blamed on any frailty on his part – Arsenal, collectively, have struggled when out of possession. The more he plays, the more he will grow into the role, and soon these fears will be nothing but a distant memory.

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