Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was always reluctant to play Ainsley Maitland-Niles in his preferred central midfield position.
The versatile Englishman was told by many that he is more suited to a wider role – either as a full-back or higher up as a winger. Maitland-Niles refused to admit that and did everything he could to get himself regular game time in the middle of the park.
The 23-year-old reportedly refused an offer from Southampton last month, even though Arteta wanted him to accept it. (Read here) He joined West Brom on loan instead until the end of the season because Sam Allardyce promised to play him in central midfield.
To be fair to big Sam, he kept his word, but a red card to Semi Ajayi forced the Baggies boss to bring on another defender. Matt Phillips, who started on the left flank, was withdrawn, and Maitland-Niles was forced to play there.
The Arsenal man fared well and Allardyce himself claimed that he looked a lot better out wide than in the middle of the park.
When asked how Maitland-Niles played, he told Birmingham Live: “Absolutely – very good. He should’ve scored. I thought it was a good chance but he should’ve hit the target. He isn’t a natural finisher but we hope that those midfielders can pop up with one now and again.
“That would’ve been a really important one, but his overall performance…he may have made himself look better in the wide left position, rather than central midfield, after that performance.”
Arteta was right all along
The Arsenal boss was always adamant that Maitland-Niles was better out wide. The Englishman has all the qualities to be a brilliant attacking full-back, but he just wasn’t ready to admit that.
Even the manager who fancied him in central midfield has now claimed that he fared better out wide. That would’ve made Maitland-Niles wonder if the position he loves is actually right for him, but he is extremely strong-willed and he will do everything to prove people wrong.
If he can do that, Arteta will welcome him back with open arms. However, if he cannot show the world that he can thrive at the highest level in central midfield, he should just accept the role he is given by the Arsenal boss when he returns in the summer.