‘I’m not a defender’ – Maitland-Niles makes Arsenal admission after providing Bellerin cover

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Ainsley Maitland-Niles Arsenal 2019-20
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The versatile 22-year-old is hoping to keep his place in the Gunners XI, but has called for patience if Unai Emery continues to use him at right-back

Ainsley Maitland-Niles is hoping to keep his place in the Arsenal side, with regular right-back Hector Bellerin back to full fitness, but the versatile 22-year-old concedes: “I’m not a defender”.

A product of a famed academy system in north London stepped out of the youth ranks as a midfielder.

He considers his best work to be carried out in that area of the field, but has been asked to adapt his game when dropping into the back four.

Criticism has come his way at times, as he endeavours to settle in a new role, and Maitland-Niles says patience will be required if Unai Emery keeps faith with him in a full-back berth.

He told Sky Sports when asked if he expects to be moved again with Spain international Bellerin back in contention: "Only time will tell and of course I want to play as many games as I can.

"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.

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

"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."

Arsenal and Maitland-Niles are currently preparing for the start of their 2019-20 Europa League campaign, with Emery’s side having reached the final of that competition last season.

The plan is to chase down continental glory once more, but a lofty finish in the Premier League remains the priority for a club that has spent three years outside of the Champions League elite.

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"The Premier League is our main competition that we want to solidify our place in," added Maitland-Niles.

"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."