Arsene Wenger says he picked Ainsley Maitland-Niles at left-back against Liverpool because of the 20-year-old’s pace and recovery runs.
The England under-20 international was given the nod ahead of summer-signing Sead Kolasinac for the third game in a row as the Gunners started with a traditional back four that featured Nacho Monreal, traditionally a left-back, playing in a centre-back pair with Laurent Koscielny.
Regularly run ragged on the counter-attack by the visitors during the first half, Arsenal counted themselves lucky to be only one goal down at the break before they snatched a remarkable 3-3 draw from 2-0 down. For his part, Maitland-Niles stuck to his task of trying to quell Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane and even though some positional inexperience might have proved more costly on another night, the youngster impressed the boss.
“His pace is the main reason why he played and I think as well his recovery runs are very good, he has shown that a few times,” Arsene Wenger told Arsenal.com.
“He came back and I think it’s a positive game, he is 20 years old and what he showed in a game of that stature is very good. It was a big test [against Mohamed Salah], but I think successful, it was a successful performance from him.
“I would say it was a nightmare [for us] in the first half,” the boss went on, “but I was very proud of the players in the second half.
“We showed quality, character, gave everything and overall, I must say, what can you say? Mentally we were not at the level in the first half, you could see incidents of the Manchester United game here where we had the bad start.
“Overall we played too deep, too far from each other, but we were much more compact in the second half and after that we are even frustrated in the end because we were 3-2 up and could have won the game.”