On Sunday afternoon, Arsenal travelled to Sheffield United in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. Here are five things we learned from the 2-1 win.
Arsenal travelled to Sheffield United with hopes of earning a place in the FA Cup semi-finals for the fourth time in the past seven years. They have a superb record in the quarter-finals of the competition and maintained it on Sunday, squeezing past an excellent United team thanks to a late Dani Ceballos finish. The Gunners had held a one-goal lead for much of the match after Nicolas Pepe scored a penalty, but David McGoldrick’s late equaliser caused panic. In the end, however, Ceballos swept and secured the team’s trip to Wembley.
Here are five things we learned from the 2-1 victory.
5. Why won’t Maitland-Niles play right-back?
Ainsley Maitland-Niles started at right wing-back here. He failed to impact the match positively in the opening stages, but as Arsenal started to play out from the back more effectively later in the first half and beyond, the young midfielder grew into the game. At half-time, his 88% pass completion rate was the second-best in the team while his 40 touches led all midfielders and attackers.
Maitland-Niles was central to Arsenal’s progressive play. He carried the ball well, bounding into space in front of him when he had the chance, and he provided Shkodran Mustafi and Joe Willock with passing options to shuttle possession forwards and break out of United’s pressing scheme. His offensive play also provided Nicolas Pepe with the chance to drift inside. Maitland-Niles maintained the width in the final third and Pepe could make runs into the penalty area and pick up spaces in more central areas.
And yet, for the positive performance he put in, Maitland-Niles seems unwilling to play right-back in a back four. Whenever he has played there, he has looked very comfortable, but he refused to feature in the position once Hector Bellerin returned. Should Maitland-Niles swallow his pride and commit to the position, he could be a high-level regular starter.