With the imminent signing of Cedric Soares, Arsenal’s Ainsley Maitland-Niles could be featuring in midfield for the rest of the season.
Over the past couple of years, Arsenal youth product Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been a superb addition to the first-team. Not that he has made a particularly monumental difference, but his versatility across the pitch has become crucial for the Gunners.
Recently, the midfielder-by-trade has been filling in admirably in the right-back position, as Hector Bellerin was sidelined throughout most of 2019 with an ACL rupture.
Maitland-Niles quickly became a fan-favourite playing that position, and some Arsenal fans will even tell you that he is a better right-back than Hector Bellerin. While that comes down to your own opinion, there is one thing that can’t be debated: Bellerin is a full-back, while Maitland-Niles is not. The Englishman is a natural midfielder and even played as a winger in his youth career.
Earlier in this transfer window, Arsenal were linked with a few central midfielders, with the club seemingly looking to bolster that area of the pitch. However, these links died down, and Mikel Arteta’s side instead began seeking out right-backs. Now, Cedric Soares looks set to join the club on loan from Southampton on deadline day, according to Football London.
So why did the Gunners change their sights from midfielders to a right-back? Well, the answer could be Maitland-Niles. With Cedric coming in and Bellerin finally fit and playing good football again, the 22-year-old Englishman could slot into a midfield spot, where he showcased his talent in a MOTM performance against Manchester United a couple of years ago.
Maitland-Niles would have some tough competition in midfield – that’s for sure. Both Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira have been men reborn after Arteta came in as manager, and of course, Matteo Guendouzi, Mesut Ozil, and Joe Willock still feature regularly.
Maitland-Niles does bring something to the table that we haven’t seen much of in the Gunners midfield lately though – athleticism. While Torreira, Xhaka, Ozil, and Guendouzi are all great players, none of them are particularly athletic, and it the lack of this trait has caused issues for Arsenal in recent times.
It’s very possible that Arteta spotted this issue within his midfield, and decided that the most feasible solution would be to move Maitland-Niles into a midfield role and sign a backup right-back for Bellerin instead.