What to do with Ainsley Maitland-Niles?

It took a few years, but with Hector-Vector Bellerin Arsenal once again have a fabulous right-back. Full backs have become super important weapons in the modern game and they have to be both good at defending and attacking. In fact, they are now more regarded as wingbacks and need speed, dribbling skills (ideally), good crossing and passing as well as all the usual defensive skills associated with the full back position. If they are very effective in our attacking game they will end up with lots of key passes, assists and some important goals too.

Henry dog 008

Unfortunately, Hector suffered a bad injury and it remains to be seen how he will be once fully fit again. Will he still have the same speed and tackling skills, for example?

It looks like he will be back soon, though, and that is great news. It will leave Emery, however, with a dilemma: what to do with Ainsley Maitland-Niles?

Our only 22 year old full back has grown in status and played way beyond his years in recent PL games. AMN has established a good early partnership with Pepe too. He is prone to the occasional big mistake, but that seems to be a price to be paid for his incredibly calm composure with and without the ball. Ainsley has become a key member of the first team, as these stats show (only based on four PL games, though):

  1. played in all four PL games (360 minutes)
  2. Received one MOTM award – only Ceballos and Pepe also got a MOTM award 
  3. Leads tackles per game at Arsenal: 2.5
  4. Second for interceptions: 2 per game
  5. Third for dribbles: 1 per game
  6. Shared second for assists: 1
  7. Shared fourth for key passes: 1.3 per game
  8. Shared second for crosses: 1 per game

So my question to you is: what should Emery do once Hector is fully fit?

  1. Keep playing AMN and keep Bellerin on the bench/ play him in cup games
  2. Put AMN on the bench and make Bellerin our automatic nr.1
  3. Play AMN in midfield instead of Torreira, Xhaka or Guendouzi
  4. Play AMN as a winger
  5. Play AMN in the hole (in a 4-2-1-3)
  6. Something else…

Over to you..

By TotalArsenal.

39 thoughts on “What to do with Ainsley Maitland-Niles?

  • Should be played in midfield, not instead of but in partnership with Torrera and Xhaxa..rotation..
    He has the best defensive instincts of all the midfielders. So I can see either him or Torrera partnering Xhaxa in deep midfield.
    Of course there will be a settling period of taking care of the ball and covering the CBs that the position requires. Guendouzi would be better served in a more free BTB role.

  • Play him as defensive midfielder along with Belerin as rb to help tidy the defense when Belerin make some runs in the flank two of the must watch their runs always to help each each other for recovery purposes. adad, a

  • We can use AMN as a defensive midfielder in place of Xhaka. Xhaka is very immobile, makes rash challenges and his brain goes into freezing mode too often and in the wrong areas of the pitch. Xhaka can’t improve. Gendouzi is very inconsistent and all over the pitch but is a favourite of the coach. AMN can be better than both especially if we use him as a double pivot with Torreira. Our main problem with players is Emery. He doesnt plat Lacazette against Liverpool yet its clear that Auba plays better against small teams whilst Laca is a man of the big stage. I don’t see Emery giving AMN a chance in his natural position. NO. He even sold Bielek and brought Luiz. A Midfield of picked from AMN, Torreira, Willock, Cebalos, Gendouzi, and Emile Smith can do wonders. This list of players reminds me of the crop consisting of Fabregas, Song, Nasri etc. So capable and talented they just lacked the right leadership on the pitch. Give the armband to Laca or Holding and we will see the changes. Emery likes odd players & formations. I fear he wont afford the likes of AMN the chance to flourish in their natural positions. A coach who insists on a player like Xhaka & Moustafi is NOT GOOD ENOUGH. I hope Lungberg was brought into the picture to have him ready whem Emery is kicked out. AMN is a midfielder he must get a chance because the ones playing in his natural position have been given too many opportunities but sadly are just average at most.

  • It’s positive question and I simply may like to award Ansley Mait-Land Niles midfield because he is supposed to replace N.PEPE for sometimes,but that is imposible.
    So i’m trying to named him in midfield.

  • it’s positive question and i simply may like to award Ansley Mait-Land Niles a role of midfield instead of replacing N.Pepe for sometimes.

  • A good problem for UE. The teams at the top of the PL are stocked with first team types. So many, that some become role players or part-time starters (Shaqiri, Mahrez). Appearing against specific opponents or strategies– or in cup games. For Emery to become a peer to Pep or Klopp? Managing his lineups to accommodate the best in all of his charges– will be the trick. The good problem.

    Finding a way to give both AMN and Hector 30-35 starts across all comps would be relief. When compared to last season’s need. Finding square pegs to play in round positions.


  • Post his injury recovery Bellerin will be an unknown quantity, so I fully expect that AWN will get more starts. Once Bellerin’s form has been proven I would hope that they both get good game time as they are both worthy of a first team spot.

  • A plane was taking off from Kennedy Airport. After it reached a comfortable cruising altitude, the captain made an announcement over the intercom,
    “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Welcome to Flight 293, nonstop from New York to Los Angeles. The weather ahead is good and therefore we should have a smooth and uneventful flight.
    Now, please sit back and relax – OH MY GOD!”
    Then, the captain came back on the intercom and said,
    “Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so sorry if I scared you earlier, but while I was talking, the flight-attendant brought me a cup of coffee and spilled the hot coffee in my lap. You should see the front of my pants!”
    A passenger in Coach piped up, “That’s nothing…
    You should see the back of mine!”

  • Two young boys walked into a pharmacy one day, picked out a box of tampons and proceeded to the checkout counter.
    The pharmacist at the counter asked the older boy, ‘Son, how old are you?’
    ‘Eight’, the boy replied.
    The man continued, ‘Do you know what these are used for?’
    The boy replied, ‘Not exactly, but they aren’t for me. They’re for him. He’s my brother. He’s four.”
    “Oh, really?” the pharmacist replied with a grin.
    “Yes.” the boy said. “We saw on TV that if you use these, you would be able to swim, play tennis and ride a bike. Right now, he can’t do none of those.”

  • A great problem to have. I would work Hector in slowly to get him back to best bealth and value, supplementing Amn.
    I think personally, that amn has a higher cieling in contributing to the attack, Hector is a great defender, but has never really reached where we expected on crosses or assists. If Hector can get back to the number one status rb overall eventually, I would then work in Ainsley to a point where we could consider selling Bellerin. Just considering. We need to work in youth anyway, we have a lot of midfielders like Willock, LT, , even Chambers as dm. No team is getting ahead of city or Liverpool this season and probably the next anyway, at least. Like I said, just a thought, and the way I propose it, we can mix the two rbs nicely for a while,. .. benefitting everyone.

  • CM trio of AMN/Torreira/Guendouzi

    AMN and Guendouzi can both be B2B players, capable of adding something to the def of the team while being able to push forward. IMO AMN is better at this compared to Guendouzi but Guendouzi has the higher tempo, all in all, I think that those two can become a great partnership for driving our team forward through the middle.

    We have some talented young wide players to compliment that CM, more so in the near future, players like Saka and Martinelli will (hopefully) be pushing hard for a starting role. Not to mention Nelson (should) settle into this new system and reproduce the magic he has at lower levels. Eddie and T John-Jules…

    I don’t think the question is what to do with AMN, it is “Will Emery play him in CM?” AMN can run with the ball so I feel Emery will force AMN out wide and we will end up losing him if Emery isn’t replaced.

  • Hi TA, just catching up after a busy week with only phone access to the interweb… Quite a series of posts you’ve been putting out. Your enthusiasm must be strong…

    I’m not quite equal to it, in fact. I was pleased with most elements of the NLD (the more attacking approach and the comeback to get a result) but I just can’t get myself excited about trying to put myself in the manager’s shoes. I fear Ozil–and maybe Bellerin too–mostly because they’re “Wenger’s guys” aren’t going to get the playing time that would allow them to really contribute to the level I believe they might. You never know, however, and Ozil (and Ramsey) got to play more and more as Emery saw his chances of CL football (his one remit for keeping his job) grew slimmer…

    I know you feel differently, but I hear a lot of worry about the bottom line coming from ownership (Josh) and management (Raul). So, like with Rambo before him, Emery must be tasked with making the team not too reliant on (lame-duck) Ozil and anybody else who might command a big payday with their next contract. To my mind that includes Bellerin (assuming he at least looks to have not lost a step) as well as the CFs (Lacazette and Aubameyang and even Pepe, too) who may hinder each other from putting up overly gaudy goal totals…

    Finally–and this will sound even more cranky–I just can’t get overly moved by these stats–esp. when they’re so (soooooo) few per game (not to mention over just a few games here in the early season) and thus subject to so (soooo) much luck. For example, of all the goals I’ve seen this season, Harry Kane’s reverse bender blast that came back off the post was the most stunning/sublime…and it wasn’t even a goal(!) 😉 Then again, I don’t even know what a key pass is? Is it the pre-assist (i.e., does a goal have to be the result?)…Sometimes I think we ought to just judge with our eyes…

    All that being said, I can still weigh in…but not stick my neck out and say that I think AMN is probably best as a right wing back. Like with Kola on the other side, I think our front-line athleticism really helped against Totts in keeping them pinned back and forcing them into some (very) poor clearances that we were able to turn into chances (and goals). Maybe it’s the time of the season (or both teams are hurting in terms of defensive personnel) but I thought both teams were (very) iffy getting the ball forward from their own halves, hence the end to end (and very chancy) nature of the contest. Arsenal could really benefit, I think, from more coordinated pressing from the front (including the FBs when they find themselves up there)…

    My bet, when all is said and done, and hoping that neither AMN nor Bellerin have any (additional) injuries, is that they’ll pretty much split the right FB/WB position… Of course, as always, what (TF…) do I know…

  • Therein lies the stat(s) HT.
    Us both of a generation that relied mostly on eyeball evaluation– with a basic reliance on statistics… to an era where (almost) all sports are reliant on analytics and projections. Hard to even discuss anymore the fave sport of my youth– baseball. Were some cutting-edge (sorta’) standards for MLB analytics 10 years back? But few accepted baselines for statistical comparison at-a-glance. I understand WAR (wins above replacement). But then– come to find out ‘whose or which’ WAR system you use will alter the totals.

    Why I have little faith in the instant and in-game ratings of players like WhoScored or Opta. Those are just as flawed as the many types of WAR systems. Equations weighted by the creator of the ratings system based what that group or individual thought most of, or more important. Great for raw numbers perhaps. But generally skates right by events that can’t be evaluated categorically by numbers.

    Do still like video-driven data analysis from a youth-player evaluation perspective. That a player can be objectively compared to every player that has ever been captured at length on video over the past 25 to 30 years. To have that data available for comparative bases? I might safely bet or guess: ‘We Are Here’ now. If I want to be optimistic? (You know me…) I’ll even wager the headstart Arsenal had a few years ago in this respect– is being realized. Not to any great advantage perhaps. But as a bridge for the new regime– to prevent any further slippage toward mid-table-ism.

    The club did just realize a bumper crop of good young players the last 2+yrs. Hope this type of academy harvest become more frequent. Think that was the expectation 7-8 years back with the addition of data analysis to Arsenal’s toolbelt.

    Like what I see– on that front. 😉


  • Good to hear from you, Seventeenho. 🙂

    I am not sure whether I am more enthusiastic than you, but there is plenty to write about and I would like tot stay hopeful that we will see positive change to our play/ Emery’s tactics. In fact, I think you enjoyed the Spurs game more than I did from what I could gather during your live blog.

    Point taken re the stats… but then I mention every time that it is still early days… I reckon the eyes see what they want to see but the stats help in confirming their bias! 😉

    For example, I believe that Guendouzi’s defending has improved and guess what… the stats show it. I also believe that his attacking game looks better than it is effective…. and the stats show that too.

    My final comment about this is that many like to give their views but do not try and back it up with some facts/stats… I am sure when you are deciding on whose shares to buy you will look at a few key stats, no? 🙂

  • Interesting bit regarding how last-season’s Arsenal was the oldest among top-6 PL teams at 26.5yrs avg. To this season being the youngest squad in the PL– at 25.1 yrs avg. Aside from David Luiz (32)– all other newcomers were 24 or younger.

    Commentary that UE ‘isn’t the guy to play and develop youth’? Now policy apparently.


  • TA, not easy to give a definite answer on Niles … he has a playing style that does not carry a strong prejudice either way. One thing is clear though and that is that memory can be so fond and at the moment it is working in favour of Bellerin.

    In terms of pure skills I rate Niles very highly, higher than Bellerin. However Bellerin has a more proactive mentality which makes all the difference to what they each can offer. While Niles is able to rise to the occassion, Bellerin, as it were, creates the occassion.

    Against Spurs I felt that Niles played with a lot more abandon which raised his performance. I wondered if it was our trailing the Spurs as well as the audacity with which Pepe played that encouraged him to come out of his shell.

    In conclusion, despite Niles bigger footballing potential, I believe Bellerin is more ready made for the right fullback role.

  • I don’t see Niles as suited to the DM role. Niles excellent athletic qualities help to hide his defensive shortcomings. I think he is better suited to an attacking midfield role but with Ozil, Ceballos, ESR as well as the PALs currently available, Emery might not have any need for him there.

    His versality might act against him, making him 2nd best everywhere. However in the long run his expousure to different roles might turn him into a well rounded footballer.

  • jw .. interesting the age of the team. It’s all part of repositioning the Arsenal for the future. Younger players attract smaller wages, have better potentials to grow in value, available to the club for a longer period and are more marketable. That’s a good route climbing back to the top.

  • I would definitely go with option #2.

    1. Bellerin is indeed a top right back (according to TransferMarkt, there are only 5 RBs worth more than him). Still, he needs back-up. In cases of injuries, suspensions and tiredness. So I would absolutely see AMN as our secondary right back.

    2. Ainsley is not a good right back anyway. He is not too bad either, but we usually praise him for being alright FOR a young, relatively inexperienced lad playing out from his ideal position. And that is quite remarkable, but most PL teams have someone on his level: Yedlin, Doherty, Fredericks, Pereira, Sidibé, etc.

    3. We cannot afford to have a back-up RB of 30M+ to sit on the bench (like Walker in MC and Dalot in MU). So I think if AMN gets 1000+ minutes a season, he will continue to develop and we still have a quality option in cup ties.

    4. Having Ainsley on the bench gives us not only a contingency plan if Hector gets a knock in the game, but also some tactical flexibility in midfield. Especially with Chambers being able to play RCB, having AMN would make easier to change from 4-3-3 to 5-2-3 and vice versa.

    5. However Ainsley is not among our top 5 midfielders, even if we exclude Ozil for being more of an attacker than a midfielder. So I would not start AMN in midfield, and he wouldn’t be my first choice of substitute either.

  • Not sure I agree PE. AMN looks very natural in the RWB position and I reckon he is more ‘proactive’ than you think as per some of his stats. His final ball into the box is better than when Bellerin was just 22. But a fully fit Bellerin will offer extra experience, especially in terms of reading the game, and that goes a long way.

  • Good points pb. I would love to see AMN tried in midfield, though, just to see how he would do. But I would put him next to Xhaka as he needs guidance and work in tandem with the Swiss maestro (not in terms of making fouls, though!). 😀

  • JW, interesting re youthfulness of the team. It will also help Emery to demand and get his much needed player respect as the young ones will be less likely to challenge him.

  • Coming on late for this one, TA, but better late than never, right?

    I think the thing of being a young player who’s come through the academy has made AM-N malleable, so he can adapt to roles on the pitch that suit his abilities and style, until he makes any one area his own. The kids just want to play, no matter where, even though they will have an idea what their favourite/best position(s) will be. It was only fortuitous for AMN that Bellerin’s long term injury has put him in the limelight as a right wing/full back and he’s seized the opportunity well.

    We have seen him play as a right winger at Ipswich; DM, CM (under Wenger) and even as a 10 (this, for the U-18s, I think, in some games). He’s covered at left back and left wing back under both Wenger and Emery; now he’s covered right full back for Bellerin. So, the question for the manager will be in what role has he excelled enough to remain there permanently? Is he so good that we don’t need to have an upgrade on him in the role(s) he’s played for us at?

    On the Bellerin OR AMN question, I feel Bellerin will have his work cut out for him if he wants to displace AMN for the right back, on current form/viewing. Both are quick, able to catch opposition attackers even with a good head start, both bomb forward to good effect…. but AMN is physically the stronger and he is the more skillful in possession. Over the past year and this, I have lost count of the number of times AMN has made last ditch tackles to save our bacon (from his own errors on a few of those, it must be said) because he is quick. He also appears to be trusted to tuck in well when we have to play like we did at Liverpool, not that that met with success. It is clear he can’t help it if he looks casual in his approach and dwells on the ball too long at times, but he has acquitted himself well in that role, enough to get the nod for a while longer, even after Bellerin returns. He will improve if we go on a run of good results and some clean sheets.

    Not sure if I made my point well as I did that in some rush but, just saying Bellerin won’t walk right back into place when he is fit. He will get some cup games, get fit, show frustration at not getting any key games and may only return should AMN suffer an injury.

  • I posted that before seeing the comments which came after 17ht’s. PE’s quip about “His versality might act against him, making him 2nd best everywhere.” , buttresses my point about how he’s been used in a lot of roles and may not be the very best we can get in those roles. With him, you feel it’s always possible to get an upgrade (within and outside the team)….. but he is still only 22, it must be noted

  • You made your point very well, Erismus, and all agreed. Nice addition to the quickly written post my friend. 🙂

    Are you in Nigeria this weekend?

  • cruel dilemma indeed; there are many things to like about amn, but should hector come back as strong as he was before his injury, it would be a no contest, in my opinion. as a matter of fact, I have a feeling such a clever lad as h. will come back stronger. i suspect intelligent professionals like him, are very likely to use their time out to think about what is (relatively) wrong about their game – and find solutions of their own, i.e. the most efficient ones.
    so what about amn? among the suggestions in your list, number 3 has my favour, but i also think we may consider playing him as a … left-back:
    – this is where The Great Man used to play him, and he never disappointed
    – when i saw him play in that position, i couldn’t help but think of a great french player of the 1980’s, manuel amoros, who was right-footed, but always played as a left-back, and was a menace for the opponents every time he cut inside to use his right foot for long-distance shots; right-footed lahm also started as a lb for germany/Bayern …
    – i’d rather have him there than Big Brave (but Unreliable) Sead
    – i’m not forgetting, the young tierney of course, i think he’s a great buy, but after all he has everything to prove …
    not sure i’ve clarified anything, pretty sure of the opposite, actually, but that problem’s a tricky one

  • Good shout about Bellerin’s intelligence and actually coming back stronger, Le Gall! Also a good call to see him play on the left wing too. The question is whether his versatility is an advantage or a disadvantage?

  • Keep the bellerin on the bench and let him watch what AMN his doing interms of skills dribble the ball and crosses and passes well, couple with our new commer pepe…..

  • Great recall Le Gall!
    I’d forgotten that AMN’s earliest assignments under AW were at LB. Rather liked him there too. Perhaps you’ve hit the nail more square than any of us. In that Emery nor Raul were so daft letting Monreal depart– as AMN will slot in on the opposite side.

    AMN’s last minutes at LB were in 2017-18. Making 4 of his 13 starts there; most at any position.


  • TA, yes I am in Nigeria this weekend. Likely to be here till December, to be honest. 🙂😎

    Jw1, precisely! It was the 2017/18 season (I was trying to recall) that AMN played at left back and didn’t do badly. I don’t know whether that versatility is an advantage for him, though.

  • Eris– I’ll go with ‘anything that gets AMN minutes’ is a good thing for a 22-year-old on a top-15 world club. I get the hope that he’ll settle into a position and become a first-XI type player (and nail-down his own spot). But that opportunity hasn’t yet knocked. Comes down to either patience– or going to a (slightly) lesser team. Albeit likely with less talent around him.

    An example? I’m certain AOC is enjoying the success at Pool (who wouldn’t?). Where the plan was to go there, be coached up by Klopp, and become a great player– from one-in-the-rough. Injury interceded last season. Even though healthy this term– Alex has but 3 apps, 120 minutes (90 vs Soton). Not sure it’s going to happen for him there. Where, AMN is playing each week. Probably pleased too. (His play seems better by the week this season.)


  • Good points on the intelligence – as a requirement to perform at top level.
    I don’t know much about Bellerin, and I hope that this applies to him big time.
    I just wanted to mention that I have seen a video on Arsenal’s official Facebook-page recent days where Holding and Chambers partnered in the ‘name game’: where they had to explain/describe footballers, athletes and celebrities (written on a card only one of them sees) for their mate to guess as many as possible in a short time. And Holding as well as Chamber seemed really quick and smart. And while I know that this popular culture associations have little to do with being/becoming a top defender I believe that it correlates of cognitive intelligence, thus quick decision making.

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