Ainsley Maitland-Niles Cruelly Loses Out

Arsenal, Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)
Arsenal, Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images) /

The Arsenal community was ecstatic on Wednesday.

For the first time since 2014 we saw an Arsenal player make his full England debut in a competitive match, only for the ecstasy to die down in the blink of an eye.

As seen with Bukayo Saka when he made his national bow in the win over Wales, Maitland-Niles was the casualty of the Three Lions’ one-dimensional attacking play. Focussing almost exclusively on the right flank, the reliance on Reece James and Mason Mount to create all the opportunities meant he was left mostly as a bystander.

In fairness to Gareth Southgate, his ploy was working. James’ athleticism and intelligent running were causing Denmark problems down their left, with England looking dangerous with the overloads produced in wide areas.

In the opening minute, however, Maitland-Niles had chance to drive down the left after picking the ball up in his own half. With no options either side, some confident touches on the ball were a positive start to proceedings. Called into action for a few lofted Danish passes, he also covered his marker well. Even for minor elements such as throw-ins, he came across with an aura similar to the nonchalance he takes his penalties.

But it was cut short.

Some truly abysmal defending from Harry Maguire resulted in two needless, foolish bookings. Off he went. So too did Maitland-Niles, who was Southgate’s chosen victim to accommodate for the Manchester United skipper’s hopelessness.

Crippling pressure Maguire finds himself under and the reasons behind his torrid recent patch extend beyond mere ability. A topic we shan’t delve into here.

The end result meant his memorable day was brought to an abrupt end after just 36 minutes. An outcome that was very tough to swallow.

Offering glimpses of his talent on the national stage – however brief – does indicate more will come. Maitland-Niles won’t have lost his chance as a result of a teammate. It’s just a month (really!) until the next batch of international fixtures, and in an England side needing to rely on wing-backs to compromise for defensive shortcomings, the 23-year-old will be recalled.

Above his newfound niche at left wing-back, his versatility across the park makes him a shoo-in for future caps. Thomas Partey’s arrival even opens the door for a potential central midfield berth, and we now Southgate loves classic, no frills attached midfielders.

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Dissapointing? Yes. Damning? Not at all.