Mikel Arteta has heaped praise on Ainsley Maitland-Niles after Arsenal’s 1-0 victory over Watford, insisting the Gunners midfielder looks a ‘different player’.
The 24-year-old spent the second half of last season on loan at West Brom in a bid to play in his preferred midfield position.
But after returning to the Emirates in the summer, he had a loan move to Everton blocked, after which he publicly hit out at the club over the decision on social media.
However, the versatile Arsenal academy product, who can play at right-back or left-back, has earned more opportunities to play in the centre of the park this season, including in Sunday’s win against Watford.
With Thomas Partey out with a groin problem, Maitland-Niles was chosen to start next to Albert Sambi Lokonga and he repaid his manager’s faith in him with a man of the match display.
Speaking in his post-match press conference, Arteta laid out the vast improvements he has seen from the England international.
‘First of all, I see a different player in terms of his urgency, his commitment, the clarity in his play, his purpose,’ said the Gunners boss.
‘Since we made the decision [to keep him], it was clear what I was seeing that I wanted him to stay, because he was going to be useful.
‘He has a huge talent because he’s versatile enough to adapt to almost any position on the pitch. Today we made use of him to do what he had to do in the game, which was really important.’
‘When I see him in training sessions, when I see how he prepares, when I see the questions he’s asking, his level of attention,’ Arteta added.
‘Everything you talk through, his response is immediate. He’s a really clever boy, really clever, really intelligent.
‘I think he needs to able to transmit that, and how much he cares, with his body language and his determination. He’s come a long way.’
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