Ainsley Maitland-Niles is the definition of a ‘versatile footballer’.
A midfielder by trade, the Hale End academy graduate filled in at left-wing back in both the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City and in the final itself against Chelsea yesterday evening.
In both games, the Englishman stuck to his task immaculately, providing a threat going forward and staying alert defensively.
Against City in particular, Maitland-Niles excelled in defence, nullifying the threat of the dangerous Riyad Mahrez.
His task in the final versus Chelsea was slightly easier given the fact Arsenal saw far more of the ball, but he still played a key role in keeping the Blues’ attack at bay.
Gunners fans were understandably thrilled with his performance and his interview after the game went down just as well as his exploits on the pitch.
Maitland-Niles said: “That’s what we’ve been working on since lockdown, having a positive attitude, always wanting to win games even when we do go down, and playing our football no matter what happens.
“It prevailed today and it was fantastic to see the boys turn that around and really go all out attack to win the game for us.
“I love it over there [playing wing-back]. When I’m on the pitch I thrive when I get more minutes and no matter where I’m playing, I’m just happy to do a job for the team and bring him one of these at the end of the day, so it’s fantastic.”
Maturity and humbleness, two characteristics that are understandably endearing the Englishman to the Arsenal fan base.
One reply from an Arsenal fan read: “Here is the difference between him and Guendo. If you do what Arteta asks, he will reward you.”
Another quipped: “I’ve watched this 15 times. I’ve got something in my eye.”
Back in July, reports surfaced from The Athletic that the 22-year-old was seeking an exit from Arsenal after being used sparingly by Arteta for much of the 2019/20 season.
But after his performances against City and Chelsea, the Gunners simply cannot afford to let him go this summer.
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