Ainsley Maitland-Niles Tactical Analysis

In Arsene Wenger’s last season at Arsenal, to the joy of many fans, we saw Ainsley Maitland-Niles force himself into the first team. 2017/18 saw him make 28 appearances, however, most of those came at left back where he impressed despite not being in his preferred position of central midfield.

If anything his experience as a central midfielder which would’ve helped improve his awareness and composure helped him nail down his spot at left back. This could be seen as last season he was successful in 73.3% of his dribbles and make an average of 5.86 interceptions a game (stats provided by Wyscout).

This Season and Unai Emery

One of the main reasons that Unai Emery was given the reins to Arsenal seemed to be his similar view to developing the youth already at the club. So far, the player we’ve seen him put the most faith in is Matiland-Niles whose been rewarded with a new contract and the more senior shirt number of 15.

In Emery’s first half of Arsenal football we saw even more encouraging signs for AMN as he was stationed in midfield against Boreham Wood on Saturday.

This midfield three in what seemed to be a 4-3-3 also included young prospects, Joe Willock and Emile Smith Rowe, who also had a very good performance overall. In this midfield three, Willock seemed to sit deeper as AMN and Smith Rowe roamed in attack and defence, here’s where AMN encouraged.

Vision

For any midfielder at Arsenal, good vision and execution is a must, and that’s something that AMN without a doubt possesses. This can even be seen in the arrival of the more defensive Lucas Torreira.

Here, AMN is the most advanced of the midfielders and does well to recognise the Boreham Wood press and drop off into the space to receive Smith Rowe’s pass.
After receiving the ball nicely, it’s important to note that he has his head up, allowing him to identify the space quickly and exploit it with a well-weighted through ball to take the pressing players out of the game.
The pass finds Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in great space who cuts back for Alexandre Lacazette who doesn’t find the back of the net.

In a three-man midfield, this type of vision and quick thinking can be vital. Being one of the more advanced players, AMN can turn defence into attack in an instant and if we are to see Aubameyang deployed on the left more often, this could be very dangerous for opposition teams.

Off The Ball Movement

When he was used in midfield last season, AMN was mostly found in a holding role. However, he has admitted that he sees himself as more of a box to box player, something that he showed he can be very capable of with his performance on Saturday. Especially as it is a position that requires as much work off the ball as on it.

As Sokratis steps up to pass into Reiss Nelson on the right wing, AMN spots the space behind the Boreham Wood midfield and makes his way there from the starting position of the centre circle.
Having ghosted in behind undetected, the Boreham Wood players split oblivious to AMN’s presence, giving Nelson an easy pass to play Arsenal’s new number 15 in behind. Nelson himself continues his run and AMN finds him inside the box.

This shows how AMN’s concentration and intelligence off the ball can help move himself and Arsenal up the pitch and into dangerous positions. If he’s to continue playing in this type of role during pre-season he should become very comfortable in picking out spaces to exploit and find a good groove for when the season begins.

Composure & Decision Making

If there was one criticism of AMN last season, it would’ve been that despite getting into good positions his end product wasn’t always the best. This could be seen as he failed to register an assist unlike our other fullback options Sead Kolasinac (four) and Hector Bellerin (five).

However, playing in midfield, this could help improve his end product as his decision making will, without doubt, improve playing in a more pressurised area of the pitch. The highlight of AMN’s day, however, did come in the form of an assist and a very well taken one at that.

After receiving the ball of Nelson, AMN shows just how good he is with the ball at his feet and comfortably dribbles through the packed Boreham Wood midfield into the box.
This pulls a Boreham Wood centre back out to meet him and he does well to push the ball into the space behind.
Here is the most impressive part of the move. When in this position it would be easy to hit the goalkeeper in an attempt at goal. But AMN keeps his cool, and his head up, spots Aubameyang at the back post and clips an excellent ball over for him to head home.

If he is to play in his desired box to box role, this all round great play is something that he will have to produce regularly. We saw it last season as he proved time and again that he is more than comfortable playing in tight situations, but it’ll be interesting to see how his decision making once he breaks free develops.

Summary

Many Arsenal fans have known that AMN’s trade has been plied in central midfield, however, this season is his chance to show the wider audience of the Premier League.

It’s clear that he’s a player that Emery is fond of so, like last year, I believe that if he performs consistently well he can get a run in the team’s midfield where, if he continues to perform like on Saturday, he could have a very impressive season.

(By the way, I know it was just against Boreham Wood in the first game of pre-season but nonetheless, these are encouraging signs).