Ashley Cole believes Ainsley Maitland-Niles was ‘too versatile for his own good’ at Arsenal which became a ‘problem’ as it meant he was unable to nail down a spot in one position before being sent out on loan to Premier League strugglers West Brom.
Maitland-Niles emerged from Arsenal’s academy back in 2014 to become a fixture in the first-term and was tipped for a big future at the Emirates after helping his boyhood club win two FA Cups and two Community Shields.
But there has been debate about the best role for Maitland-Niles ever since his breakthrough in north north, with the 23-year-old – who has five England caps to his name – comfortable at left-back, right-back and in central midfield.
And while Mikel Arteta has spoken in glowing terms about Maitland-Niles since taking over the reins from Unai Emery back in December 2019, the Spaniard has been unable to guarantee regular minutes – and the Arsenal man completed a January move to the Hawthorns for the remainder of the season.
‘I think the problem he had was he was too versatile for his own good,’ ex-Arsenal, Chelsea and England star Cole told Sky Sports ahead of the Baggies’ clash with Everton.
‘There were so many players in the squad. You got an injury at right-back, left-back, central midfield, right wing, left wing-back… he could play everywhere.
‘But it’s very important for young players to nail down a spot and really make that their own.
‘He feels central midfield is his position, that that’s where he wants to ply his trade and Big Sam [Allardyce] has taken a chance on him and given him that opportunity.’
In an interview with West Brom’s official website, Allardyce confirmed Maitland-Niles will be playing in his favoured position of central midfield and will only be used at full-back in an emergency.
‘Ainsley’s game is starting to get better and better,’ the West Brom manager said.
‘Because he’s had many years of nearly always playing [at full-back] and not playing where he wanted to play, other clubs have only ever seen him as a full-back. I think even England played him there.
‘He wants to play in midfield for us. He’s got the energy to do that and he has excellent ability with both feet.
‘I think the only way he’d ever play full-back would be on the back of injuries and suspensions.’