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'This club needs competition' - Arteta warns Arsenal stars that no-one is safe

22:30 GMT 31/01/2020
Mikel Arteta Arsenal 2019-20
The Gunners head coach insists he will pick his team based on what he sees in training - not on reputation

Mikel Arteta has warned his players that no-one's position is safe as Arsenal prepare for the final three months of the season.

The Gunners' head coach heads into Sunday’s game at Burnley having bolstered his squad with two new arrivals during the transfer window, bringing in Pablo Mari and Cedric Soares on loan.

Centre-back Mari has arrived from Flamengo, while Cedric has joined from Southampton as cover for Hector Bellerin at right-back.

Arteta has welcomed both new arrivals and believes they will add much needed competition to his squad at a time when injuries have been taking their toll.

In recent weeks he has been forced to use Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Bukayo Saka as makeshift full-backs, with Saka starting each of the last three games on the left of the back four.

Maitland-Niles meanwhile - a natural central midfielder - has made 21 appearances in all competitions this season, with all but three of those coming at full-back.

There have been fears that the arrivals of Mari and Cedric could now stop academy products such as Saka and Maitland-Niles from getting regular minutes, but Arteta is adamant that won’t be the case and insists he will pick his side based purely on what he sees in training, rather than on reputation.

“This club needs competition of two or three players in each position to fight,” Arteta said. “If they are able to fight and compete and they are better than the other ones, they will play. If not, someone else will play.

“Players are going to start games if they deserve to play and if they perform at the level of this football club.

“We have some necessities in certain areas, playing some players in positions that are not really their positions. With more time I would like to have specialists for every position to do exactly what we want to do.

“But Ainsley has adapted really well to that position, the same as Bukayo. They have been really helpful so they can still play in those positions, but naturally they are other type of players.”

Since breaking into the first-time during Arsene Wenger’s final season in charge, Maitland-Niles has often found himself operating as an emergency full-back - whether it be under the Frenchman, Unai Emery or Arteta.

With Bellerin now back to full fitness, however, and Cedric also an option, the 22-year-old will hope to get more opportunities further up the pitch.

And Arteta believes Maitland-Niles’ versatility in midfield will be an asset.

“He’s a very useful player with great speed and is technically gifted,” said Arsenal’s head coach. “He’s a good passer of the ball and can play as an attacking midfielder because he’s a threat every time with his runs. 

“And he can play as a holding midfielder because he’s played a lot there in his career. It’s good to have players that can play in various positions.”

Neither Mari or Cedric will be involved at Burnley on Sunday, with Mari short of match-fitness having only played three games for Flamengo since the end of November.

Cedric meanwhile has a knee injury which could keep him sidelined for up to three weeks.

Both have signed on loan until the end of the season, but Arsenal do have the option to make their moves permanent in the summer.

When quizzed on whether he would like that to happen, Arteta said: “We’ve done so far the business that we could do, which are loans.

“When those loans come to an end and we have to make decisions, we will see where we are.”