Arteta opens door to finally using unhappy Arsenal man in favourite position

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta is ready to use Ainsley Maitland-Niles in his preferred central midfield position following the injury sustained by Granit Xhaka in the north London derby.

The Switzerland international will miss the next three months of the campaign with a knee ligament injury after Lucas Moura collided into his leg in the second half of Sunday’s 3-1 victory.

Xhaka has had a miserable start to the season on a personal level, testing positive for coronavirus, having to serve a three-match ban for a red card and now suffering the most serious injury of his career.

But the 29-year-old’s misfortune has presented an opportunity for Maitland-Niles to finally get a run of games in central midfield, having almost left the club over the summer as he sought to establish himself in his preferred role.

Arteta is relatively light in central midfield, with Thomas Partey, Albert Sambi Lokonga and Mohamed Elneny joining Maitland-Niles as the only available options, and the Arsenal boss says the latter could now be presented with his chance to impress.

Asked how big a blow it is to lose Xhaka, Arteta said on Thursday: ‘He’s a big, big loss and we’re going to lose him for a while.

‘We’ll try to keep him as close as possible to the team and he will evolve and develop in other areas.

‘It’s the first big injury that he’s had. We are here to help him and I am sure we will find other ways around the team because we have some other really good players that will step in and do the job.’

Asked if Maitland-Niles was one of those players who could step in, Arteta replied: ‘Ainsley is certainly one of the options.

‘We have used him quite a lot since the start of the season and he’s doing really well and I’m pleased with what I’ve seen from him.’

Maitland-Niles had an encouraging spell on loan with West Brom last season and has been eager to play as a box-to-box midfielder with Arsenal, though Arteta has predominantly used him as a utility player at full-back.

Speaking about his desire to play in midfield, Maitland-Niles said earlier this year: ‘I want to play in the centre of the pitch because I feel comfortable there and there’s a lot of things I can bring by playing in the middle.

‘You can control the game from there and I think my attributes help me do that.’

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