Arsenal announced on Tuesday that they had agreed a new long-term deal for Ainsley Maitland-Niles, with the 20-year-old likely to play a bigger role in the first-team next season.
“It feels fantastic knowing that I’m going to be a part of the squad, and a big part of the squad. It means a lot with the new head coach coming in and Arsenal tying me down (with a new contract). I’m very pleased,” he said to Arsenal.com.
He impressed for the Gunners after breaking into the side last campaign, successfully operating in a variety of roles in defence and midfield and could be key for new manager Unai Emery in 2018/19.
Arsenal agreeing a new deal for Maitland-Niles is a smart move as he’s already shown promise when called upon in the Premier League and could provide cover in a number of roles due to his versatility.
Option as a wing-back
Hector Bellerin and Stephan Lichtsteiner will be Arsenal’s first and second choice at right-back and right wing-back next season, but their options on the left-hand side aren’t clear cut. The Gunners have Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac, but the pair aren’t at their best operating at wing-back, which could lead to Maitland-Niles often getting a nod.
The England u21 international has played both flanks as a wing-back for Arsenal and would provide pace and industry on the left if he was utilised in the role by Emery. Maitland-Niles is comfortable in possession and has shown himself to be a combative player who could thrive in the right system.
“I think (the high-pressing game) suits me a lot, too. I’ve got a lot of pace to give to the team, pressing up high and winning the ball back as soon as possible is a major factor in football,” he added in his interview. Maitland-Niles could certainly incorporate these attributes to a wing-back role if called upon, but h e may also be needed slightly further afield.
Maitland-Niles could replace Wilshere
Arsenal could lose Jack Wilshere this summer, with the 26-year-old out of contract in the coming weeks. He’s so far failed to agree terms on a contract extension and looks set to depart the Emirates unless something changes in the eleventh hour. As a result, Arsenal will need to replace him.
The Gunners are targeting Lucas Torreira from Sampdoria and are reportedly close to sealing his signature this summer, but Maitland-Niles could be an option in Wilshere’s stead. In the Europa League last season, the 20-year-old made 60 passes-per-game, completing 89% of them and averaged a successful dribble every 30 minutes. Maitland-Niles also created one chance per game in Europe.
He has all the hallmarks to be an Arsenal mainstay and could make up for the loss of Wilshere if he’s given the games to prove himself. The midfielder’s new deal certainly shows Arsenal believe in his potential, so next season could be the making of Ainsley Maitland-Niles.