Mikel Arteta says he was impressed by the way Ainsley Maitland-Niles performed in a more attacking midfield role as Arsenal eased past Rapid Vienna 4-1 at the Emirates.
In a heavily rotated team, the England international was given a role similar to that which Joe Willock has occupied recently. With 8 final third entries, 5 progressive passes, 2 key passes, 1 assist and a couple of shots – stats via Scott – he seemed to enjoy himself and was a central part of our most progressive attacking performance in quite some time.
Given the limitations of the opposition, it’s a bit of a leap to suggest Ainsley is the answer to our midfield problems. However, on a night when fellow Academy graduate Emile Smith Rowe enjoyed a goal-scoring cameo, courtesy of a Maitland-Niles assist no less, it has given the boss food for thought.
In his post-game press conference, Arteta reflected: “What he’s done today the great thing with Ainsley is that he can fill various positions and that’s a great thing to have in a squad.
“He has played on the left as a wing back, on the right, he can play as a holding midfield, as an attacking midfielder and again the performances like tonight helps, and he has a chance to play like anyone else.”
On Ainsley’s energy adding something to the midfield, he added: “Yes, the same with Emile and the same that Joe Willock gives in those positions because they are attacking midfielder, they are not holding midfielders.
“They have it in their minds that they want to make those runs, make that final pass, they want to shoot and at the moment we need that: we need people with the mindset to score goals.
“They want to go there, they want to take their chances, they want to be aggressive when they have the ball and when the ball is far from them, they have to make it to the box because the middle of the goal is when goals are scored. When you get in those positions constantly, the chances of scoring goals increases so it is good to see that.”
The day before the game, Arteta had lamented Arsenal’s dearth of goals from midfield and questioned whether his current options had it in them to solve the problem. It was almost like he was laying down the gauntlet to them. Last night, they responded to the call. Now all eyes turn to Sunday.