Sometimes young footballers just look the part, and that’s certainly the case with Ainsley Maitland-Niles. The 20-year-old is always so composed and comfortable on the ball that it becomes easy to forget this is still only his first full campaign as a member of Arsenal’s senior squad, yesterday’s 3-0 win over Ostersund marking his 20th appearance across all competitions this season.
And although the Swedish side hardly provided the most formidable opposition, yesterday evening was another occasion in which the promising Englishman looked so calm, confident and natural. While he didn’t play a direct hand in any of Arsenal’s goals, the platform Maitland-Niles and Mohamed Elneny provided in central midfield was crucial to maintaining the Gunners’ dominance over their Europa League opponents.
Asserting authority over the engine room in an exceptionally busy and holistic display, Maitland-Niles recorded the second-most tackles, interceptions, dribbles and touches of the ball of any Arsenal player against Ostersund, while creating one chance and completing 94% of his passes. That’s an impressive impact for any 20-year-old to have on any game at senior level, and especially on a European stage, regardless of Ostersund’s questionable quality.
It wasn’t a perfect performance from Maitland-Niles though; he was dispossessed the most times of any player on the pitch, four, and frequently winning balls in dangerous areas almost allowed the home side to claw their way back into the match after the Gunners scored twice early on. It was a timely reminder that although the youngster is an incredibly exciting prospect, he can still be a little naive at times.
But perhaps the ultimate question lingering over Maitland-Niles – who Transfermarkt value at £4.5million – is what kind of player he actually is. In recent years, we’ve seen countless promising Arsenal youngsters struggle to fulfil their potential upon being caught between more than one position – Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain being the obvious examples – and in his short Gunners career he’s already been fielded as a central midfielder, a wing-back, a full-back and a defensive midfielder, while some would argue he should be playing much further forward.
So, in a bid to ensure Maitland-Niles doesn’t endure a similar path to Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott, which position should Arsene Wenger stick with? Let us know by voting below…