Maitland-Niles admits defensive struggles and eyes return to midfield 
 (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Maitland-Niles admits defensive struggles and eyes return to midfield 

The academy product also discusses his impending battle with Bellerin and the demands of the Europa League

dave-comerford
David Comerford

Arsenal's makeshift right-back Ainsley Maitland-Niles admits it has been difficult to adjust a defensive role and is hopeful that it is only a 'matter of time' before he is deployed in his preferred midfield position once again.

After a serious injury to Hector Bellerin last season, Unai Emery turned to Maitland-Niles, traditionally a central or wide midfielder, to deputise.

Though he has seen his gametime significantly increase in the unfamiliar position, he and his fellow defenders have faced regular criticism as Arsenal continue to leak goals.

An open and honest Maitland-Niles has urged patience from frustrated supporters. 

"I'm a midfielder by trade, either central or on the wing, it's all the same to me," he explained to Sky Sports

"I'm not a defender so I do get a lot of stick about my defending being poor, but it's something I'm learning and have been learning for a couple of years now.

"It's not going to come overnight. If I was a defender as a kid, and my defending was poor, I would understand where the criticism is coming from, but I'm trying my best for the team and for the manager."

The 22-year-old, then, has made sacrifices in the interests of the team and wants those to be rewarded with a move upfield. 

"It's not where I would choose to put myself in the team, as I'm an attacking player by trade.

"That's all I can try to bring to the team. I'm still learning the defensive side, so when players are running at me, and they're throwing skills at me, I'm still learning how to deal with that.

"It's always nice to have one main position where you play, and everyone else gets to play in their main position, so hopefully it's just a matter of time before I can do that too."

Youngster vows to fight for place

The priority for Maitland-Niles is staying in the starting eleven, but he now finds his place under threat.

Bellerin has returned to full training and, having impressed prior to his long-term layoff, will be intent on regaining his spot.

"Only time will tell and of course I want to play as many games as I can," he said on the Spaniard's comeback. 

"I want to stay in the team, but if the manager chooses to pick him over me, that's something I will have to live with.

"I'll just have to keep training and working hard so that I get picked instead."

Premier League takes precedence over Europa League

Arsenal begin their continental campaign away at Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday night.

They are looking to go one better than they managed last season, when rivals Chelsea beat them 4-1 in the final.

Winning the Europa League provides a route back into the Champions League, but Maitland-Niles says the Gunners are focused on qualifying through a top-four domestic finish.

To achieve that, they will have to cope with the burden of swift Thursday-Sunday turnarounds. 

"You don't really get enough time to recover from the games properly," he admitted.

"But we've been through it before, two seasons in a row, and all we can do is keep on trying to get the hours in to recover, sleep and then get our tactical side ready for the next game.

"The Premier League is our main competition that we want to solidify our place in. The top four would be brilliant, and anything outside of that would be unexpected for us.

"We'd been in the Champions League for so long, but we have to get back into it. That's the main aim."

The trip to Germany is followed by a home game against newly-promoted Aston Villa on Sunday afternoon.

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