~Versatile, confident and oozing coolness~
The Taylor Takeover profiles young Arsenal star Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles had been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dark season for Arsenal. His successful integration into the first team has been a preview of the level of talent Arsenal have coming through their academy at the moment. U23 Premier League 2 Champions and FA Youth Cup runners-up, Arsenal’s youth setup is one reason for fans to be optimistic for the future and Maitland-Niles is the front-runner of this new generation of talent.
His favoured position is central midfield but Maitland-Niles has been deployed in multiple positions in 2 different formations and looked comfortable in all of them. He has played the majority of his football as a left back in a 4-2-3-1 or a left Wing-Back in a 3-4-2-1, and the seamlessness with which he has slotted into both positions demonstrates both his flexibility and maturity.
Niles’ greatest quality is his temperament. He exudes calmness, has a self-assurance well beyond his years and is not afraid to take risks in possession even in deep in his own half. This can sometimes lead to giveaways in dangerous areas but on the whole, it has helped him fit into Arsenal’s possession game. He was played out of position against the likes of Chelsea Liverpool and dealt with both games confidently.
Niles blends his unerring composure with a plethora of technical and physical gifts. He possesses searing pace and acceleration that allows him to chase down opposition attackers and also makes him difficult to dribble past one against one. His pace has helped him perform admirably against the likes of Mohamed Salah and Victor Moses, Niles dominated against the later in particular as Moses struggled to find solutions against the youngster’s’ sharpness and acceleration.
Much like Hector Bellerin, when Niles’ inexperience leads to positional mistakes he is able to rectify them by recovering quickly to either regain his position or dispossess opposition attackers. This has proven invaluable to him and he has not been criticised for costly mistakes as he is able to quickly amend them. His pace also makes him a considerable attacking threat when playing Full-Back. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal against Leicester demonstrates this perfectly; Niles controled a diagonal pass from Xhaka expertly before racing past his opposite number and crossing for Aubameyang who scored after two attempts.
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Being educated as a Central Midfielder at youth level has certainly helped him when he has played Full-Back. He possesses technique and imagination that most Full-Backs do not. His first touch and close control enable him to wriggle out of tight spots particularly when close to the touchline and he also uses these gifts to beat opponents one against one on the flanks. Victor Moses fell victim to some of Niles’ clever tricks during their showdown. David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich are perfect examples of how converted Central Midfielders can use the skills they learnt in midfield to dominate at Full-Back and they are players Niles should certainly look to emulate if he is to continue playing there.
However, it is in the centre of the pitch where Niles has said he feels most comfortable and where he is most able to combine his array of talents. When Niles has drifted infield from the wing or been deployed in midfield from the start he has stood out. He glides past opponents effortlessly, is brave enough to receive the ball in tight spaces and wins the ball back from opponents. His man of the match performance away at Old Trafford should serve as an indication of what he can do if he develops well in midfield. He went toe to toe with Pogba and Matic, two of the best midfielders in the league and outshone them.
Under new Head Coach Unai Emery, Niles has a great opportunity to take the next step in his development. Emery is excited to work with and improve Niles according to CEO Ivan Gazidis. Emery’s approach will likely add some intensity to Niles’ game. With Jack Wilshere likely leaving on a free transfer and Arsenal again competing in the Europa League there will be minutes available for Niles in his favoured central midfield position and Arsenal fans should be excited to see what he does with them.
Feature Image via The Short Fuse
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This Article first featured on The Taylor Takeaway