Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has sent a message to his player Ainsley Maitland-Niles advising him to keep doing what he’s doing.
Maitland-Niles, who is a product of the Arsenal academy, was drafted into the starting XI midweek for the Premier League 1-1 draw with Southampton and delivered a decent performance.
The £35,000-a-week versatile star slotted into a right wing-back position against the Saints, but he’s also been used as a left-back and a central midfielder already this season.
With first-choice right-back Hector Bellerin suspended, Maitland-Niles came into the side for a first league start since September and most of his minutes have been in the Europa League.
The wide player was comfortable with his defensive work and couldn’t quite seem to find the spark going forward.
He’s a highly-rated 23-year-old that already has three senior international caps for England, but can’t quite seem to cement a spot in the Gunners side, perhaps being a victim of his own versatility.
Arsenal manager Arteta has given positive comments about the progress of Maitland-Niles, although he wasn’t prepared to stick his neck on the line by saying he would keep his starting position on Saturday against Everton.
“I think Ainsley had a good game [against Southampton] and I think he is evolving really good. I think he’s made – in this year – big, big progress and he’s in a much better place than what he was a year ago and he needs to keep doing what he’s doing,” Arteta said, as quoted by the club’s official website.
Aged 23, Maitland-Niles will be getting to a point now where he’ll want to be starting regularly and he does have the ability to do that at the Emirates Stadium.
But it’s concerning that an out of form Bellerin has been above him in the pecking order at right-back, plus Arteta hasn’t turned to him during a team that the midfield looks lightweight.