Arsene Wenger says playing Ainsley Maitland-Niles at left-back will help the youngster develop new aspects to his game ahead of a potential career in the centre of midfield.
In the absence of Nacho Monreal and an injury to Sead Kolasinac, the 19-year-old has been a regular starter on the left side of Wenger’s defence, both in a four-man unit and as a wing-back alongside three centre-backs.
The decision to play such an inexperienced player out of position in important games since December initially raised eyebrows on the terraces, but Wenger insists that the Academy graduate is showing promising signs.
“You have to find a good balance between confidence and urgency,” Wenger said of the positive start made by Maitland-Niles.
“I’m pleased with his performances. What I’m really pleased with is that his urgency level raises game after game. You could see that at Chelsea [in the Carabao Cup semi-final], even if sometimes he was a bit too confident.
“I must also say that he also has this capacity to repair any mistakes through his pace and his recovery runs, which are absolutely exceptional.”
On how he came to play the England youth international in defence, he revealed: “To be honest, I put him there in pre-season because sometimes we had no left footed players available there so I insisted with him.
“I think sometimes you have to start your career in a position that is not yours and to show that you can adapt. That develops a lot of qualities that are absolutely vital.
“Ainsley is a central midfield player and I hope that he will play in there at some stage and that he convinces there.
“Overall, when you’re a young player, you want to play. And no matter where you play, you play.
“You also develop other aspects [to your game], for example, up against the [touch] line he develops a short technique that will help him when he moves inside.”
Having sold Francis Coquelin this week, the boss also hinted that Maitland-Niles could get more action in his preferred midfield position as the season develops. Quite a carrot to be dangled in front of an exciting prospect.
“Francis left for Valencia so that opens one more spot for him. That’s a possibility that he plays there, yes.”