Ainsley Maitland-Niles says praise earned from Arsene Wenger, relayed to him via Twitter, warmed his heart when he read it after the 1-0 win over Newcastle United in December.
The 20-year-old, making just his second Premier League start at the time, was asked to play at left-back and not only defended well but also caught the eye in an attacking capacity.
Impressed by what he saw the boss said in his press conference, “I believe he is the future.” Words that were seized upon by the club’s social media team.
The boss has also been discussing @Ains_7…
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) December 16, 2017
Asked about the comments ahead of Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final with Chelsea, Maitland-Niles told Arsenal.com: “When I looked at the tweet, my heart warmed because Arsène Wenger is such an intelligent man and a legend at the club.
“For him to say something about me like that is just an amazing feeling. I literally did smile when I looked at the tweet.”
Maitland-Niles also touched on how he’s spent the last few months improving his defensive game, in light of the game time he’s been afforded as part of a back four and a back five. He’s at pains to stress that playing as a full-back has never phased him, despite being a midfielder by trade.
“Even before I was playing full back, I used to train with the first team at full back when the boss called me over,” he continued.
“It just showed that he really believed in me already, so I just thought I had to take some stuff on in case I needed it in the future. That’s the type of person I am. I wouldn’t look at the negatives like, ‘Oh I don’t want to play at full back’, I would always try to take something out of the session. I did learn a lot.
On his relationship with the other defenders, he added: “Per’s just been saying for me to keep my focus at all times. I should always keep in constant communication with my centre back. When it was with Rob [Holding] either he would go and I’d drop or I would go and he’d drop. It was just about winning the ball.
“I’ve been focusing on [improving my heading too] and getting up, the timing and heading the ball. I do have an alright leap but it’s just about timing, keeping my eye on the ball and then wanting to win the headers against the bigger strikers.”