Arsenal let Ainsley Maitland-Niles run around at central midfield against Charlton and, all things considered, it’s something worth reading into.
If you’ve watched any Arsenal in 2020, you may have forgotten that Ainsley Maitland-Niles existed. Mostly because it seemed like Mikel Arteta forgot that he existed. Even in the wake of Hector Bellerin’s injury problems, Arteta’s rightback answer was not what Emery’s had always been—Maitland-Niles.
Instead, he went with Sokratis. And thus he made a statement that maybe Maitland-Niles was not a viable option at rightback. Which, given the complete lack of appearances from the young Englishman, seemed to indicate that Maitland-Niles was not an option at all.
But on the restart, matched up against Charlton in what ended up being an incredibly lopsided 6-0 friendly, Maitland-Niles got his chance to run around as a central midfielder—his dream come true. It’s what he’s been holding out for all these years.
Arsenal and Ainsley Maitland-Niles could finally agree
And it got everyone to speculating. Was Maitland-Niles finally going to get his chance to do what he’s been waiting for?
Perhaps it’s reading too much into the situation, but when you peel back and look at the big picture, it may very well mean just that. After all, it’s the Arsenal midfield that will be the primary question-maker this summer. With Granit Xhaka in place and little else, the possibilities are endless as far as how Arteta will stock the rest of the positions.
All signs point to Thomas Partey joining the cause, which is great, that’s two guys. But with Lucas Torreira likely to leave, Dani Ceballos aiming to return to Madrid, Matteo Guendouzi seemingly on the outs (though he had a redemptive, quality performance against Charlton too) and little money to spend investing in more personnel, it may end up being Maitland-Niles or nobody.
Which leads me to believe that maybe he wasn’t playing rightback instead of Sokratis because he had one of those conversations with Arteta where they talked about the future, and the future was hashed out, and that future involves Maitland-Niles no longer paying rightback at all, but rather waiting his turn for the central midfield vacancies.
And, again, there are a lot of them. So what’s the harm in letting Maitland-Niles at least serve in a rotational role? Again, it’s that or load up on a bunch of budget-friendly, unproven options who weren’t raised in the Arsenal academy like Maitland-Niles was. Seems like an easy choice.