Ainsley Maitland-Niles has hailed Unai Emery for his help in turning the winger into a more capable defender.
The 21-year-old has often been used as a wing-back this season with Arsenal’s right-backs Hector Bellerin and Stephan Lichtsteiner struggling with injuries and form respectively.
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- Ainsley Maitland-Niles has featured predominantly in defence for Arsenal this season.
- The 21-year-old has provided good cover for Hector Bellerin, who is out with a long-term injury.
- The natural attacking player had also played defensively under Arsene Wenger last season, with some expected faults.
- But Maitland-Niles feels he has improved in the role this season thanks to the help of Emery and his coaching staff.
- And he also believes he could prove tough competition for Bellerin when the Spaniard returns.
Maitland-Niles had previously filled in at wing-back under Arsene Wenger last season but still looked like a winger playing in defence, rather than a natural defender.
However, he has improved this season, something he puts down to the help of Emery and his coaches.
“I’m still adapting to [the position] but the manager and coaching staff are helping me a lot at the moment,” Maitland-Niles told football.london.
“My best qualities are going forward, creating. I’ve spoken to the manager and he seems to think the same as me.
“When Hector comes back maybe it’ll be a good challenge for me and him.
“It all depends on how he comes back. Hector is a fantastic player and I wouldn’t want to force anybody out of the team, it’s more about healthy competition with him.”
Of Maitland-Niles’ 19 appearances for the Arsenal first-team this season, only one has not been in a defensive position – either at full-back or wing-back.
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Maitland-Niles’ favourite positions
Despite his recent comments on potentially challenging Hector Bellerin to become Arsenal’s number one right-back, Maitland-Niles has also spoken in the past about his desires to play other positions.
As a 19-year-old, the Englishman spoke of central midfield being his favourite position, having played there in Arsenal’s 5-0 win over Southampton.
When asked if centre-midfield was his preferred role Maitland-Niles told the club’s official website in 2017: “Yes, it is! I prefer to play centre mid than right back, but I’m happy to do a job for the team.”
But two years later, he expressed his desires to become Arsenal’s first-choice winger amid rumours of an exit in the January transfer window.
Then, he said: “I’d like to be a winger. I feel comfortable there and I’ve been playing there this season.
“I was a striker growing up. Thierry Henry was the perfect role model at the time. Then everybody started growing but I was still a bit short.
“As I was still quick, direct and could run at players they thought they would put me on the wing. So up until the age of 16, I was a winger.