Arsenal: Ainsley Maitland-Niles teasing what might be

Ainsley Maitland-Niles continues to go in and out of the Arsenal orbit, but after Wolverhampton, he has teased yet again what could be.

You have to love a player who refuses to be forgotten. Earlier this year, I made the exact same claim about Joe Willock. Now, it’s Ainsley Maitland-Niles who continues to reemerge just when Arsenal fans are about to count him out.

I still have no idea what Mikel Arteta has planned for Ainsley Maitland-Niles, but after seeing what the young man did as a substitute against Wolverhampton, I hope it’s a bit more dedicated than it has been lately.

Maitland-Niles came on for Kieran Tierney in the 55th minute and I’ll admit, I was scratching my head a bit. Tierney had done nothing to deserve being yanked off and Maitland-Niles sporadic usage has not done him any favors.

Yet for the next 35-40 minutes, Maitland-Niles was arguably our best player. He was relentless in the defense, closing down space aggressively, yet with composure, any time a Wolverhampton player came into his area.

That usually meant closing down the indomitable Adama Traore. The announcers hypothesized that Arteta may have sent Maitland-Niles on for this exact purpose and, if so, it was a stroke of brilliance and a job well done from both parties.

Maitland-Niles played the part to utter perfection. He was dominant in defense, he was tremendous with the ball, and he retained the same steely presence that he’s had since he was first breaking through in the first team.

And yet still all I can do is wonder what might be. What is in store for Maitland-Niles? Is he going to feature more prominently or is he going to continue to be pushed to the side—literally and figuratively—in favor of other, preferred, players?

Every time Maitland-Niles has a match like this, I’m left thinking about what would happen if he were given a run in the midfield. He played his part today like a central midfielder. He manned his space so well and he made the most out of every possession. That’s what central midfielders are supposed to do.

So what happens next? Arteta has to be pleased with how well Maitland-Niles did the job that was asked of him. He was in the running for the man of the match despite being a substitute. But what could be and what will be are so often two different things.