Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has laid down the gauntlet to Ainsley Maitland-Niles, challenging the versatile Gunner to win his place back in the squad after missing out against Newcastle. Maitland-Niles has proven to be a strong squad player for Arteta since he took over from Unai Emery little over a year ago.
The 23-year-old has long been touted for a bright future at Arsenal, but he’s often struggled to hold down a regular starting spot.
He was regularly deployed as a right-back under Emery, but Maitland-Niles made it clear that his preferred position was in midfield.
Arteta has given the England international limited opportunities in his favoured role, utilising him in a number of different positions.
So far this season, Maitland-Niles has played on both sides of defence and all three positions in midfield with Arteta struggling to find a regular spot for him in his starting line-up.
And he was left out of the matchday squad altogether for Arsenal’s home match against Newcastle on Monday.
The Gunners didn’t need him though as they comfortably beat Steve Bruce’s side 3-0 courtesy of a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang brace with Bukayo Saka also getting on the scoresheet.
And Arteta seemingly wants to see a lot more from Maitland-Niles if he is to come back into the fold.
“There’s been a lot of players who have left out of the squad and have less minutes,” he said.
“It’s about him, his performances and how much he wants to be in the team.”
Maitland-Niles has shown glimpses of his talents this season and was arguably Arsenal’s best player in the 2-1 defeat to Everton last month when he played on the right side of midfield.
But he had to wait until last week’s match against Crystal Palace to return to the starting line-up, where he played on the left side of defence.