Rob Holding, Calum Chambers and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have always been expected to become starters. But changed expectations from esteemed starter to versatile depth piece reveals a greater value to the Arsenal prospects.
When a young player breaks into the outer surroundings of the first-team squad, there is an immediate and unfair explosion in expectation. A teenager playing senior football is viewed as an immediate path to stardom, even if history paints a very different story.
These sky-high hopes and anticipations for these players’ futures mean that when they fail to reach such unattainable heights, disappointment and criticism reign. They are seen as wasted potential, even if they still serve an extremely valuable role within the squad.
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There are three players in the present Arsenal squad that have suffered from this phenomenon: centre-backs Rob Holding and Calum Chambers, who have long been intertwined together, and central-midfielder-turned right-back, Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
Chambers and Holding have shown in glimpses that they would be capable starters at centre-back. Arsene Wenger once extolled Holding’s qualities, famously apologising that he only cost £2 million as people complained that Arsenal were not spending enough, while Chambers has intermittently produced excellent performances, including being named Fulham’s Player of the Season last year.
However, while there have been positive signs from both, on balance, they have fallen short of the required standard of solutions of the Gunners’ defensive problems. realistically, neither will be long-term starters at centre-back. And that has seen them disregarded as ‘rubbish’, ‘not needed’ or ‘unworthy’.
The same can be said for Maitland-Niles. The 22-year-old has put in some excellent displays, especially during a brief spell at right-back under Mikel Arteta. But he has never been able to nail down a starting spot for himself and has to settle for a reserve role, filling in at various positions when injuries and suspensions strike.
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While at one time in their careers, each of the trio was expected to one day become starters at the Emirates, that they never reach that level does not have to be disastrous. In fact, having solid, experienced, dependable reserves who can play in several positions and step in at short notice is invaluable over the course of an entire season.
The likes of James Milner, Ilkay Gundogan, John O’Shea, Wes Brown, Ray Parlour, Sylvain Wiltord have all built careers on the value of having solid reserve players within an elite squad. There is nothing wrong with accepting that Chambers, Holding and Maitland-Niles will not be regular starters and instead be used in a reserve manner.
In fact, it is purely be lowering expectations and considering the greater picture that their true value will be known. Not everyone can start, but that does not mean only the starters are valuable. There is value in the reserve players, and Chambers, Holding and Maitland-Niles might just flourish once that is acknowledged.