Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has revealed he started 20-year-old Ainsley Maitland-Niles at left-back, ahead of the likes of Sead Kolasinac, in his side's clash against Liverpool on Friday as his pace was crucial in nullifying the threat the Reds posed on the counter. Well, in theory.
Having made just one appearance in the Premier League at the start of December, Maitland-Niles has since featured in three consecutive league games for the Gunners. New to the left-back position, the 20-year-old has moved ahead of experienced players in the role and does not look out of place.
Although his name in the starting eleven on Friday will have raised a few eyebrows, his manager had no doubts at to what key attributes he would bring to the clash.
Following the topsy-turvy affair at the Emirates, Wenger told the club's website: “His pace is the main reason why he played and I think as well his recovery runs are very good, he has shown that a few times.
“He came back and I think it’s a positive game, he is 20 years old and what he showed in a game of that stature is very good. It was a big test [against Mohamed Salah], but I think successful, it was a successful performance from him."
The dramatic 3-3 draw against Liverpool saw the visitors create a two-goal buffer just after half-time, but Arsenal punished Jurgen Klopp's side for failing to take their chances in the first period as they netted three goals in five-minutes to take the lead, before eventually being pegged back.
On the thrilling clash, Wenger said: “I would say it was a nightmare [for us] in the first half. But I was very proud of the players in the second half.
“We showed quality, character, gave everything and overall, I must say, what can you say? Mentally we were not at the level in the first half, you could see incidents of the Manchester United game here where we had the bad start.
“Overall we played too deep, too far from each other, but we were much more compact in the second half and after that we are even frustrated in the end because we were 3-2 up and could have won the game.”
The share of the spoils ensured Arsenal remain in fifth position, with their next opportunity to put pressure on the top four coming on December 28, with a trip to face Crystal Palace.