But he never really managed to carve out a place in the starting lineup.
He played everywhere for the Gunners under three different managers: Arsene Wenger, Unai Emery and Mikel Arteta.
And it was used in the left back, right back, as the third half, as a midfielder on the right and in the middle of the park.
It is the latter who is his favorite position, but where he has always been the least able to assert his claims for a place.
On the contrary, his career at Emirates largely replaced the others when they were sidelined due to injury or suspension.
This left him more and more in search of a simple utility for the Gunners to his chagrin; he has made it clear in private and in public that he continues to crave a role at the heart of the action.
Speaking at the end of January, Arteta seemed to agree.
The Spaniard signed Cedric Soares, Portugal’s right-back, on loan from Southampton to support Hector Bellerin, and said Sky Sports: “He can play as an attacking midfielder because he is always a threat with his runs.
“And he can play a maintenance midfielder because he has played a lot there in his career. It’s good to have players who can play in different positions. ”
It appeared that opportunities in his favorite role were to come.
However, as January became February and Arsenal left for Dubai during their mid-season break, Maitland-Niles’ prospects in north London fell apart.
In the midst of allegations of poor timing and non-compliance with the standards required by Arteta, he rarely appeared.
Indeed, he has only been used as an injury replacement in three games since January 18, as Sokratis’ favorite in the back when Bellerin and Cedric were unavailable and was publicly chastised by Arteta.
“Ainsley has to lower his head and work hard,” he said.
“Show me every day in training that he wants him more than anyone else, he wants to play for this club and fight for his place. ”
This challenge now seems to have been met and Arteta and Maitland-Niles begin the resumption of the season with a clean slate.
Because on Saturday, in the middle of the midfield, a solid Arsenal XI took the peloton in the first half against Charlton in a friendly match north of London, was Maitland-Niles.
These friendly matches, especially for players who are not your first guaranteed players, aim to make the most of the time available; that’s what Maitland-Niles did on Saturday.
He started at the midfielder’s base alongside Matteo Guendouzi, but was allowed to break with the midfielder and make off-ball runs to join Lacazette. This is exactly what he did for the first goal, attacking the space between the defenders while David Luiz waltzed forward, the Brazilian then shooting at length and Maitland-Niles nodding so that the Frenchman came home .
Time and time again, he broke into the box, forcing a good stop for Dylan Phillips on one occasion, as he worked hard to filter alongside Guendouzi.
Throughout the 45 minutes, he lined up with Bellerin in the back right and Reiss Nelson, starting widely to the right.
But it was this ability to break through the lines that really stood out; it’s something that Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira are not really comfortable with, while Mesut Ozil prefers to start further.
Joe Willock and Dani Ceballos, who started together in the second half on each side of Xhaka as twins # 8, can both do it, although Ceballos appreciably prefers to descend deeply to play face to face and receive the ball at the feet. Certainly Maitland-Niles brings something different to Arteta’s midfield mix.
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So if we take the last three years as act one, could that be the start of a second successful act for Maitland-Niles?
“He’s a very useful player with great speed, good technique and good passing ability,” said Arteta of his number 15 earlier this year.
Maitland-Niles is fully aware of how demanding Arteta is and how demanding he will be as he seeks to rebuild Arsenal in the top four and the title contenders.
It seems that he did what was necessary to get back into his manager’s plans.
It must now continue to respond to these requests. And as he seeks to carve out his own final place in the midfielder position he prefers, Saturday was an ideal start for restarting his own project.
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