‘You have to add fighting to your qualities’: Wenger insists Town toughened Maitland-Niles up
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger believes Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ loan spell at Ipswich Town toughened the youngster up and prepared him for first team football at the Emirates.
The 20-year-old spent the 2015-16 season at Portman Road, playing 32 games and scoring twice, but made just seven Championship appearances after the turn of the year.
After featuring regularly in domestic cup competitions last season, he has made 11 appearances under Wenger this season, including starts as a left back in the Gunners’ last two Premier League games.
“Yes, because you know well the infrastructure here,” Wenger said when asked whether his young player’s time in Suffolk had helped him develop.
“It’s super-developed and maybe sometimes people are overprotected in a competitive world. A competitive world is a rough world, it’s a world where you need to fight against internal opposition and as well outside competition.
“Sometimes when they go to the Championship, you can be tempted to think ‘I’m at Arsenal, so I’ll always be good somewhere else’. You go to the Championship and realise that good players are everywhere.
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“You have to add the fighting to your qualities and that’s what he means with maturing there. He realised that in the Championship it’s very difficult and in every game you have to be ready for a fight.”
Maitland-Niles spent much of his time at Portman Road in a wide role and, while he now sees himself as a central midfielder, Wenger believes he can forge a career in a defensive position.
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“Certainly his focus is better,” Wenger said. “I think at the start of the season, the fact that I used him in defensive positions maybe made him realise that there’s no opening where he dreams to play but there could be an opening where he doesn’t dream to play.
“It takes you a while to adapt and to realise sometimes as well that you have the needed qualities to play in these positions. He is thinking like a defender and that’s what you want from him.
“It’s the quality of concentration. He has huge physical qualities as well. His recovery runs are good, he’s good in one against ones. Of course the challenge is to continue to develop, to continue to improve. He has a lot to do but when you get a chance in life, take it. That’s what you want from him now.”