One of the stand out features of yesterday’s match, Arsenal first under their new coach, was the role of Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Arteta will continue with the young Englishman, when Hector Bellerin is fit but the way he was deployed was interesting and worthy of comment.
You may see the phrase ‘inverted fullback’ banded around and largely this has been seen as the deployment of a fullback, in a defensive capacity, to combat teams using inverted wingers, who will cut in from the flank onto their stronger foot and to get more involved in build-up play.
However, at Man City, Guardiola and Arteta used inverted full backs in a more proactive sense and I feel this is what we saw with Maitland-Niles yesterday. Pep utilised Lahm in this way at Bayern and certainly we have seen it at City with Fabien Delph and others, where the fullback will not stay wide but often instead, carry the ball into more central areas when moving forwards.
Using AMN in this way brought a lot to the Arsenal performance at The Vitality. It assisted Arteta’s team in largely countering the threat of Josh King, who whilst playing wide left was always likely to want to cut in on to his favoured right foot. An inverted fullback playing the position well should have the ability to show an inverted winger down the line lessening the threat they pose, and Ainsley was able to do this on occasions
Ainsley Maitland- Niles delivered an intelligent performance in this altered role, given how little time he has had with Arteta, but it gives his new coach an excellent option, when playing lesser teams and those that utilise inverted wingers. However, against the strong teams and those employing more traditional wide-men on the strong foot, looking to beat the fullback on the outside and whip a cross in, I am sure Bellerin would be first choice.
Playing a fullback this was can also reduce width in attack if the winger or wide striker ahead is not staying wide, which Nelson and then Pepe, largely did, as the inverted fullback is less likely to offer an overlap.
Nice to have options though…..