Lyon's Ainsley-Maitland Niles on the ball

Ainsley Maitland-Niles: Lyon's Swiss Army Knife

Ainsley Maitland-Niles: Lyon's Swiss Army Knife

Publish on 04/15 at 17:00 - E. DEVIN


The versatile former Arsenal player has made a home for himself in Lyon, impressing in a number of roles under Pierre Sage

Much has been made in Lyon's incredible recent run of form of the strong play of the team's January arrivals. Youngsters Malick Fofana and Gift Orban have been impressive in attack, while Saïd Benrahma has become a reliable presence on the left flank. Nemanja Matic, meanwhile, has been an ever-present in holding midfield under Pierre Sage, helping the team move not only out of the relegation zone, but into European contention.

The team have also impressed in reaching the final of the Coupe de France for the first time since 2012, but one player may have gone under the radar in the team's incredible run of form: Ainsley Maitland-Niles. The former Arsenal player was an afterthought prior to Sage's arrival, starting twice under Laurent Blanc, and just once during Fabio Grosso's spell in charge. Under Sage, however, he has become an ever-present, missing just one match (through suspension) since the turn of the year.

While used most often as a right back by Sage, he has previously played in central midfield, attacking midfield, and even on the left wing, his versatility helping the team settle on a first-choice eleven. Now being played in his preferred position, he has been a revelation, his spell at Lyon one of the best of what's been an itinerant career. After making his Arsenal debut in 2014, he spent a spell on loan at Ipswich in the Championship, before returning to his parent club and slowly progressing into the first team, where he became a regular as the team reached the final of the 2019 Europa League and won the FA Cup.



Maitland-Niles even won a handful of England caps, but he found his path to the first team blocked at Arsenal, and after loan spells at West Bromwich Albion, Roma and Southampton, he joined Lyon on a free this summer, with the hopes of replacing the departed Malo Gusto at right back. After facing competition from youngster Saël Kumbedi and Clinton Mata, he has now made the position his own, showcasing a dynamic style.

In yesterday's win over Brest, though, the Englishman showed more than versatility, displaying nerves of steel to complete the hosts' comeback from being 3-1 down with a penalty in the 16th minute of stoppage time. Speaking post-match, he underscored the importance of the win for his side's European hopes in a boiling Groupama Stadium. “The atmosphere was absolutely phenomenal. To be able to score the winner in a game like this is just fantastic.” 

With regular taker Alexandre Lacazette having been forced off through injury, Maitland-Niles was quick to underscore the importance of scoring from the spot not only in terms of the table, but as a way of emphasizing the team's character and in tribute to the forward. "It was sad to see him stretchered off tonight and so knew I had to score that penalty, especially for him. It was his goal that brought us back to life.”

Lyon are indeed back to life, and ahead of Sunday's massive clash with Paris Saint-Germain, this result and the play of Maitland-Niles should do them a world of good as they continue what's been an improbable run of form.

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