Ainsley Maitland-Niles will return to Arsenal with words of thanks and advice ringing in his ears: Play where you’re told – and score more goals.
West Brom chief Sam Allardyce has paid tribute to the 23-year-old who came to help out the Baggies during their hour of need four months ago.
The Gunners’ man hoped to squeeze into Gareth Southgate’s squad for the up-coming European Championships by catching the eye of the Three Lions head coach at the Hawthorns.
Maitland-Niles has performed impressively during his stay but Allardyce believes that the loanee – along with fellow temporary recruit Connor Gallagher – are missing one vital ingredient if they want to advance their careers.
Allardyce said: “Ainsley’s given us everything he has got.
“He came to join the fight – you have to admire that – he knew my idea was to play him where he wanted to play and where he’s always wanted to play – in midfield.
“And my words to Ainsley were this: You’ll play in midfield as long as you continue to play well. It’s up to you whether you will hold on to that position.
“There’s just one thing missing and it’s something he just needs to work on – it’s the same with Connor Gallagher – they need to score more goals. They need to chip in.
“They’re up-and-down players, they can get box-to-box, they can get on the edge of the box, in the box, they can get chances – but if they do, they need to improve their finishing.
“It’s the same for every midfielder, or every attacking midfielder like them, they have to add some goals.
“Overall, Ainsley has done the job we asked him to. He’s played where we have asked him, he’s played where he wanted to. He’s made a big contribution. But there is just one thing missing: Those goals that we ultimately needed.
“It wasn’t just about your front three but you need two or three each from your midfielders – and that could have made a big difference to us.”
Maitland-Niles will return to the Emirates with significant Premier League experience under his belt.
And Allardyce said that if he wants to nail down a regular spot in Mikel Arteta’s side, that he may have to be flexible in his approach.
He added: “ Arsenal have got many talented midfield players. I can see why it’s been difficult for him. It’s very competitive in there.
“That’s why he’s been played more as a full-back.
“If I were him, I’d play wherever the manager picked me – and I’d never turn it down because if you are able to play in a number of positions, then you are going to get more games than if you had one position and one position only.
“Perhaps you don’t want to be tagged as a ‘utility player’ but sometimes those people are played more often than those who are stubborn and say: ‘I want to play in that position and nowhere else.’”
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