Arsenal academy product Ainsley Maitland-Niles is a football manager’s dream as he is able to operate effectively across a number of positions and is happy to do whatever job is required of him by the team.
However, for the sake of the 21-year-old’s own development, he must nail down a position at the Emirates Stadium soon.
On the chalkboard
Tactical versatility is a positive trait for a player to possess, however, being too positionally malleable can have a detrimental effect upon a young player’s progression.
The failure to nail down a single position leads to players being fielded all over the park. Rather than becoming specialists in a specific role, they become reliable back-ups for a number of positions, this in turn restricts them to only being a stand-in option.
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The Gunners have seen the effects of this before, notably in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s stagnation at the club. Upon his switch to Liverpool, where he was given a consistent position that he was regularly deployed in and trusted to make his own, he quickly blossomed.
One of Unai Emery’s tasks as Arsenal manager is to ensure the same fate of stalled development does not befall Maitland-Niles.
A man for the middle
The England under-21 international has served admirably, given his relative inexperience, as a utility player for the Gunners. So far he has featured in midfield, at full-back, and even in the forward line. However, his passing ability, physical stamina, composure in possession and defensive diligence make him ideally suited to playing as a central midfielder.
Emery must dedicate a place in his midfield contingent to Maitland-Niles and avoid becoming reliant upon the youngster as just a useful utility option, as doing so will likely prevent him from ever reaching his full potential in his preferred position.
In future years, should Maitland-Niles emerge as a top-class midfielder, the club will be grateful for not having overly-exploited his versatility.
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