Reinvention of Ainsley Maitland-Niles symbolic of Mikel Arteta's Arsenal

Beating Liverpool for second time in as many months suggests Spanish manager has knack for conjuring more from players that seemed possible

Powered by automated translation

There were about 90 minutes between Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ nonchalant penalty and the announcement of his first England call-up.

Ninety minutes can be transformative: just ask Arsenal, whose last two competitive matches have brought silverware.

In itself, the Community Shield does not necessarily set Mikel Arteta on a path to greatness but overcoming Liverpool for the second time in as many months, and only a week after returning to training, reinforced the impression a youthful manager could be something special.

Maitland-Niles feels emblematic. “My heart is in this club,” he declared after winning the man-of-the-match award. Yet it could prove a valedictory display for the subject of a bid from Wolves last week.

Arsenal’s finances are a balancing act, and it may yet be that Maitland-Niles is sacrificed to fund someone else’s signing.

Stability is often a prerequisite for success but Arsenal are flourishing amid uncertainty.

Rob Holding could be loaned to Newcastle but an unheralded performer defended doggedly.

Aston Villa are interested in Emiliano Martinez, but the long-serving understudy made terrific saves from Sadio Mane. His selection ahead of a fit-again Bernd Leno suggested Arteta runs a meritocracy.

The performances of a trio whose futures are shrouded in speculation showed the Spaniard is able to get his players to focus on the task in hand.

Maitland-Niles shows how Arteta has been both pragmatic and resourceful.

His displays in the FA Cup semi-final and final plus the Community Shield have been so influential that they can obscure the reality he has made a solitary league start since January.

He has been afforded a second chance by a manager who had demoted him and he is grasping it.

Arteta has made final decisions about Mesut Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi, each predictably conspicuous by his absence at Wembley, but he has recalled and rehabilitated others.

Arteta’s prowess with flawed players, whether Granit Xhaka or David Luiz, promises to bring progress.

But Maitland-Niles also reflects a capacity for inventive thinking. He had been a reluctant right-back when Hector Bellerin was injured, open in his preference for a central midfield berth.

Arteta has reinvented him as a left wing-back and if his running power in attack was a key part of the gameplan against Chelsea in the FA Cup final, his recovery pace in defence helped frustrate Liverpool.

It is unlikely Gareth Southgate, with his wealth of options in the middle of the pitch, would have chosen Maitland-Niles there. By recasting him, Arteta may have made him an international. It feels a case of a manager showing he knows best.

That versatility is probably part of his appeal to Nuno Espirito Santo, given the importance of wing-backs in Wolves’ system.

If Maitland-Niles has transformed perceptions of himself, from fringe figure to mainstay, at Arsenal, Arteta has alternative options at wing-back, in the more attacking Bukayo Saka and the more defensive Kieran Tierney, once he integrates arrivals.


Community Shield player ratings


Liverpool were defeated without recourse to newcomers. William Saliba remained on the bench; Willian did not even make it.

Factor in the impending signing of Gabriel Magalhaes and Holding, a stalwart of four trophy wins at Wembley, could be surplus to requirements. Saliba and Magalhaes should prove higher-calibre centre-backs.

The nature of transition is such that upgrades are sought even while improvement comes with existing personnel.

But coaching and results create value and competition alike. Martinez was a serial loanee. Leno’s June knee injury presented an opportunity and Martinez has given Arteta a decision about who represents the first choice.

He recorded the highest save ratio, at 81 percent, of any goalkeeper to make more than one stop in last season’s Premier League.

If that poses the question if he is as good as the last two months indicate, part of management entails conjuring more from players that seemed possible. It is an area where Arteta has excelled.

His longer-term prospects depend in part on if the excellence of the unlikely lads is sustainable, but also on assembling a core of blue-chip performers.

It is why the most pertinent news on Saturday may have been Arteta’s statement that he was “very positive” Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will sign a new contract, just as the most encouraging comment could have been the captain’s when he said: “It’s a really exciting time to be at this club.”