The ever versatile Ainsley Maitland-Niles should Strive to be Arsenal’s James Milner
By Daniel Finton
With Hector Bellerin making an emphatic return to the starting eleven that was capped off with an 87th minute equalizing goal against Chelsea away from home, it may be time for Ainsley Maitland-Niles to adopt a new role in the squad. Bellerin’s impressive performance leads me to believe that he is feeling good under the new head coach's jurisdiction and given the fact he is the only natural, out and out right back, a great deal of game time can be expected as long as he can stay fit. Surely, Maitland-Niles can keep his role as a backup right back, although he’d be granted even more minutes if he was to establish himself as Arsenal’s James Milner, if you will.
Milner is a player that the young Englisman could replicate the career of. His competency within numerous avenues of the pitch could really come in handy for Mikel Arteta. The 22-year-old has been played in the midfield, as a winger and as both a left and right back and wing back over the past couple of seasons. Ironically, all of the aforementioned positions have also been played by Milner as well. Having such competency in so many areas will lead to more minutes for the long-serving Gunner, as long as he accepts the unconventional role.
Whether he would be willing to accept this potentially limited role or not is to be determined. A few months ago, Maitland-Niles bullishly stated that he is a winger and that is where he wants to play. Unfortunately for him, that area has little vacancy at the present moment. The likes of Reiss Nelson, Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, and the club record signing, Nicolas Pepe, sit ahead of Maitland-Niles in the pecking order for the wide attacking areas. Even that of Pierre Emerick Aubameyang has been deployed in the wide left position on a number of occasions to accommodate for Alexandre Lacazette. Notwithstanding, AMN could certainly acquire some minutes in the position, but realistically he should not bank on the winger position being his on a consistent basis.
If he wants a consistently sufficient amount of game time with his boyhood club, his best bet is to accept and adapt to the “Milner role”, and thus show Arteta that he is more than happy to be known as a utility player rather than a mainstay in any one given position.
Maitland-Niles has 47 Premier league appearances to his name, and given his rather ripe age, that is quite an impressive number. That of the individual I’m comparing him to, Milner, has a remarkable 532! The 33-year-old should be who Maitland-Niles tries to emulate, because quite frankly, given the youngsters versatility and talent, he is more than capable of replicating Milner’s impressive career, donning the red and white.
Fortunately, it does appear as though Maitland-Niles has accepted a utility role, considering during Bellerin’s lengthy absence he played as a right back for a large majority of his games. Despite recent comments possibly implicating the Englishman’s reluctance, it appears as though he has accepted the role and looks determined to make it is own.
The modern footballer is expected to mend holes in innumerable lifeboats, even if the boat is not one they’ve ever been in, and Maitland-Niles is more than capable of carrying out a good bit of patch work. The future looks bright for the London born, Arsenal man. Let us hope his career can duplicate the triumphant blueprint set by he who he should follow suit. Multiple Premier League titles and a Champions League trophy would sure be nice.