Arsene Wenger has hinted that he could drop Granit Xhaka in favour of Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
While Xhaka put in a solid second-half performance against Everton on Sunday, Wenger has potentially hinted that the midfielder could be replaced by 20-year-old Maitland-Niles.
“The huge advantage of Maitland-Niles, and the disadvantage as well, is that he can play everywhere,” Wenger told the Arsenal website ahead of the Gunners’ League Cup clash against Norwich on Tuesday.
“Sometimes when you’re a manager, you use the comfort of being able to get him to play wherever you need him to. He can play on the flanks without any problem because he has pace, he’s an intelligent boy and I think he needs to add that little bit of extra force for 90 minutes. But he’s so comfortable on the ball, so quick, so good and can steal the ball too.
“He can also play central midfield, but I must say that he’s close now to being a regular in the first team as well. I would be on my toes if I was a regular player in the Arsenal first team. His preferred position is central midfield and that’s where I believe he will end up.”
Maitland-Niles is an extraordinarily versatile young player. This season alone, he’s made nine appearances for Arsenal’s first team (five) and their reserves (four) in numerous different positions.
Arsene Wenger tends to play the England u21 as a left wing-back, whereas he prefers to feature more centrally, which he has done twice for the reserves this season. He’s also made an appearance out right and one at centre-back during the u23’s opening Premier League 2 clash of the campaign against Derby.
Therefore, you can understand why Wenger might be tempted to give Xhaka a kick up the backside by benching him for a player five years his junior who can slot in almost anywhere.
However, the more obvious as answer would be to start Jack Wilshere. The Englishman and Xhaka are the same age but have very different abilities and Gooners are crying out for Super Jack to regain his position in the starting line-up.
The 25-year-old put in another solid performance against Red Star Belgrade on Thursday and made a 13-minute cameo against Everton at the weekend.