Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ star is on the rise, so much so that the Carabao/Europa regular from earlier this season is fast becoming a fixture in our Premier League side.
Central midfield is the 20-year-old’s position of choice, but the choice is Arsene Wenger’s when it comes to first-team matters and the boss has found space for Maitland-Niles in his back line.
The versatile youngster has risen to the challenge, so much so that he was one of our star performers in the Premier League games against West Ham and Newcastle - despite playing at left back.
“Certainly his focus is better,” Wenger told Arsenal.com. “I think at the start of the season, the fact that I used him in defensive positions maybe made him realise that there’s no opening where he dreams to play but there could be an opening where he doesn’t dream to play.
“It takes you a while to adapt and to realise sometimes as well that you have the needed qualities to play in these positions. He is thinking like a defender and that’s what you want from him.
“It’s the quality of concentration. He has huge physical qualities as well. His recovery runs are good, he’s good in one against ones. Of course the challenge is to continue to develop, to continue to improve. He has a lot to do but when you get a chance in life, take it. That’s what you want from him now.”
Maitland-Niles said recently that his loan spell at Ipswich made him mature and made him “a man”. Wenger understands why.
“Yes, because you know well the infrastructure here,” he said. “It’s super-developed and maybe sometimes people are overprotected in a competitive world. A competitive world is a rough world, it’s a world where you need to fight against internal opposition and as well outside competition.
“Sometimes when they go to the Championship, you can be tempted to think ‘I’m at Arsenal, so I’ll always be good somewhere else’. You go to the Championship and realise that good players are everywhere.
“You have to add the fighting to your qualities and that’s what he means with maturing there. He realised that in the Championship it’s very difficult and in every game you have to be ready for a fight.”
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