A pair of telling moments during the stalemate between West Bromwich Albion and Manchester United this afternoon provided an insight into exactly why Mikel Arteta was hesitant to field Ainsley Maitland-Niles in a midfield berth at Arsenal.
AMN’s Baggies welcomed United to the Hawthorns a short time ago, for their latest Premier League outing.
The two sides of course headed into proceedings sitting at opposite ends of the English top-flight table, with visitors United aware ahead of kick-off that a positive result would have seen them leapfrog Leicester City back into 2nd.
West Brom, on the other hand, sat clear of basement dwellers Sheffield United by just a solitary point.
In turn, a routine victory for the Red Devils was widely predicted ahead of kick-off this afternoon.
When all was said and done, however, this proved far from the case.
It was in fact the hosts who opened the game’s scoring inside 90 seconds, when a ball in from the right saw Mbaye Diagne wrestle free to nod home at the near post:
West Brom are off to a flying start! 🛫
Diagne puts the Baggies ahead within the first 90 seconds. In the words of @gnev2 he ‘mauls’ Lindelof!
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) February 14, 2021
United, though, went on to level things up shortly before the interval, when Luke Shaw’s whipped delivery was expertly volleyed home by Bruno Fernandes:
38 – Bruno Fernandes has been directly involved in 38 goals in his first 38 Premier League appearances (22 goals & 16 assists); only Andy Cole (46) was involved in more goals after as many games (33 goals & 13 assists). Gifted. pic.twitter.com/fhurXLI96K
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 14, 2021
From here, it looked a near certainty that the Red Devils would go on to bag at least one more over the course of the 2nd-half, to depart the Hawthorns with all 3 points.
Such assumptions, however, were thwarted by a combination of sluggish attacking efforts on the part of Solskjaer’s men, and a surprisingly resolute defensive showing on the part of West Brom.
In turn, upon the final whistle sounding, the points were shared, in a 1-1 draw.
AMN’s key shortcomings
On the back of proceedings coming to a close at the Hawthorns, there have since unsurprisingly been a host of noteworthy talking points focused on in the post-match chatter.
Many have suggested that West Brom’s opener should have been ruled out for a foul on Victor Lindelof, whilst an incident involving Harry Maguire in the hosts’ box also drew plenty of attention.
Here, though, we are instead going to centre in on Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
The English international of course departed Arsenal for West Brom last week, after majorly struggling for game-time over the opening half of the campaign.
This came with AMN having sat behind the likes of Hector Bellerin, Kieran Tierney and Cedric Soares in the full-back department at the Emirates.
Upon his loan switch to the Hawthorns being made official, though, the 23-year-old quickly made clear his desire to instead line out in a midfield berth over the remainder of the campaign.
And, today, this is precisely what Maitland-Niles was handed the opportunity to do by Sam Allarydce, alongside Chelsea loanee Conor Gallagher.
The Gunners youth product’s subsequent display proved something of a mixed bag, with Maitland-Niles having, at times, looked a player very much capable of cutting his teeth in the middle of the park for a Premier League outfit.
At others, however, particularly in key moments, the versatile Englishman showcased exactly why Mikel Arteta, despite limited options amid injury issues, opted against affording Maitland-Niles a chance to impress in Arsenal’s midfield.
The first proved central in Manchester United levelling things up in this afternoon’s clash.
After the visitors burst down the left on the stroke of half-time, Luke Shaw whipped a dangerous delivery into the box, which, as outlined above, Fernandes was on hand to lash home.
Upon replays being broadcast, however, it quickly became clear that Maitland-Niles could and possibly should have done more.
The West Brom man was caught on the wrong side of Fernandes, affording the Portuguese goal-getter far too much space to adjust his feet and pick out the top corner:
It’s a superb finish from the midfielder, hooking Shaw’s cross past Johnstone on the stroke of half-time.
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) February 14, 2021
Maitland-Niles’ other notable error then came late in the 2nd-half.
On this occasion, it was the 23-year-old himself who was set free down the left, amid a key opportunity for the hosts to retake the lead.
From here, AMN was presented with two choices: Either surge further forward before attempting to pick out the arriving Diagne, or take on last defender Harry Maguire himself.
In the end, however, the midfielder managed neither, instead playing a frankly dreadful early ball across the face of goal, which the aforementioned Diagne never had any real hope of reaching.
This highlighted a clear lack of composure and cutting edge on Maitland-Niles’ part, key attributes required of a player with hopes of establishing himself as a genuine Premier League-quality option in the middle of the park over the years ahead.
This article was edited by Josh Barker.
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