Ainsley Maitland-Niles was delighted to score his first Emirates Stadium goal on Thursday, and he’s hoping to push on and compete with Hector Bellerin for starts next season.
Maitland-Niles has really impressed the Arsenal supporters in the last couple of games, putting in two hard-working wing-back performances to help the team to crucial victories over Manchester United and Rennes.
Though the 21-year-old’s biggest contribution was defensive, he also added a vital early goal in the latter match to help the Gunners on the way to their comeback. After the game, he spoke to Football.London about his recent inclusion at wing-back, as well as the chance to compete with Hector Bellerin when the Spaniard returns from injury.
“I’m still adapting to [the position] but the manager and coaching staff are helping me a lot at the moment,” Maitland-Niles said. “My best qualities are going forward, creating. I’ve spoken to the manager and he seems to think the same as me.
“When Hector comes back maybe it’ll be a good challenge for me and him.
It all depends on how he comes back. Hector is a fantastic player and I wouldn’t want to force anybody out of the team, it’s more about healthy competition with him.”
Maitland-Niles’ goal on Thursday wasn’t only significant for the team, but also for the player himself, given it was his first goal at the Emirates Stadium. He admitted it wasn’t a moment he has any plans to forget.
“It was a fantastic feeling to score at the Emirates for the first time, what can I say? It was an unforgettable moment,” he said. “It means a lot to me and my family. Growing up, playing for Arsenal was a dream come true. To score in such a crucial game at a crucial time is fantastic as well.”
Bizarrely, the youngster wasn’t called up for England or the England u21s over the international break. Though that will be a bit disappointing for him on a personal level, it does mean he can remain with the squad for their warm-weather training over the next two weeks, and he can fully focus on Arsenal’s end of season run in.