Ainsley - How I’ve improved my defensive game

As a Hale End graduate, Ainsley Maitland-Niles grew up as a central midfielder, but has made his first-team breakthrough in a position not many would have expected.

  The Under-20 World Cup winner has excelled on the left side of our backline, but the hard work didn’t begin this season. It’s been years in the making.

“Even before I was playing full back, I used to train with the first team at full back when the boss called me over,” Maitland-Niles told Arsenal Player.

“It just showed that he really believed in me already, so I just thought I had to take some stuff on in case I needed it in the future. That’s the type of person I am. I wouldn’t look at the negatives like, ‘Oh I don’t want to play at full back’, I would always try to take something out of the session. I did learn a lot.

“Per’s just been saying for me to keep my focus at all times. I should always keep in constant communication with my centre back. When it was with Rob [Holding] either he would go and I’d drop or I would go and he’d drop. It was just about winning the ball.

“I’ve been focusing on [improving my heading too] and getting up, the timing and heading the ball. I do have an alright leap but it’s just about timing, keeping my eye on the ball and then wanting to win the headers against the bigger strikers.”

Following our 1-0 win against Newcastle last month, Wenger hailed Maitland as “the future” of the club – a quote that did not pass the 20-year-old by.

“When I looked at the tweet, my heart warmed because Arsène Wenger is such an intelligent man and a legend at the club,” he said. “For him to say something about me like that is just an amazing feeling. I literally did smile when I looked at the tweet.”

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