Despite the fact that he’s played most of his first team football as a full back or a wing-back, and that Arsene Wenger declared him to be a great candidate to fill a defensive midfield role, Ainsley Maitland-Niles says he sees his future further up the field.
The 21 started the 3-0 win over Blackpool in the front three, creating two fantastic chances for Eddie Nketiah, and he played there earlier in the season in the Carabao Cup. He also had a loan spell at Ipswich a few seasons ago where he played as wide midfielder/forward, so it’s a role he’s well accustomed to.
It’s also where he wants to make his mark at Arsenal, and although few have really considered him as a forward player since his breakthrough, the absence of Danny Welbeck and Henrikh Mkhitaryan might provide him with chances between now and the end of the season.
Speaking ahead of the Gunners trip to West Ham tomorrow, he told Sky Sports, “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.”
And when asked about his future, he continued, “I like to think of myself as a winger at 25 years old, starting every week for Arsenal, scoring and assisting goals.
“I don’t feel like I’m there. I’m still young and I have a lot of learning to do.”
Maitland-Niles scored his first Arsenal goal in the 5-1 defeat to Liverpool, so his contribution in that game was rather overshadowed, but Unai Emery seems to see something in his game that Wenger didn’t, so it’ll be interesting to see where exactly he ends up.