Ainsley Maitland-Niles showed his quality last month. Having plied his trade on loan a couple of seasons ago at Ipswich, where he learnt the ropes of the professional game under wily campaigner Mick McCarthy, the 20-year-old is now seeing the fruits of his labour.
The utility man was exceptional in the 2-2 draw with Chelsea, who were surprised by his intensity, drive and passion, as well as his maturity to stand toe to toe with Victor Moses. He certainly looks capable of filling the left wing-back role, which he has done seven times in the Premier League this season, or as a left-back in a back-four, which he has done four times.
Maitland-Niles, who can also play on the right, has shown impressive versatility, yet his attempts to nail down a spot in either position is reduced by the competition. Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac, who have started 43 league games this season combined, are very much the first choice full-back and wing-backs.
The danger for Maitland-Niles is that his flexibility sees him become the man to cover for injuries, rather than one of the first names on the teamsheet. There could though be opportunities for him in central midfield, given the dearth of quality holding midfielders
Granit Xhaka has faced criticism for his performances this season, due to his lack of defensive awareness. The same could be said of Aaron Ramsey, who has had his goalscoring moments but needs to find fitness and consistency. Jack Wilshere has been one of Arsenal’s better players this season with his driving runs from deep, but needs a secure partner. Mohamed Elneny could be that man due to his honest work rate, but his technical limitations leaves the door open.
There could be a space available for Maitland-Niles, who has been an Arsenal man since 2003 and is one of the big hopes of the club’s famed academy.
Arsenal don’t possess a man that can stop opposition play, tackle cleanly and give the forward players the platform to express themselves. Maitland-Niles, if he applies himself correctly, might just fill the void.