Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has revealed that he expects Ainsley Maitland-Niles to replace Francis Coquelin following the announcement of his departure to Valencia in the January transfer window. The Frenchman has struggled for game time this season and was given permission to leave when the La Liga club came calling.
The French midfielder, 26, last played for Arsenal on 28 December in the 3-2 win at Crystal Palace where he came on as a second-half substitute. Coquelin fell out of favour with the north London club following Wenger's move to a three at the back formation and was deemed surplus to requirements.
Meanwhile, Maitland-Niles has established himself in the first-team following injuries to Sead Kolasinac and Nacho Monreal, which has left the Gunners light at full- back. The 20-year-old has been a regular in that position but Wenger believes his future lies in midfield where he will be able to establish himself further.
Coquelin's departure puts him higher in the list to take up a spot in midfield and Wenger believes his stint at full-back and wing-back will go a long way in making him a better player. Arsenal are currently without a host of first-team options in midfield and suffered a further setback as Jack Wilshere went off against Chelsea with an ankle injury.
Wilshere, Mesut Ozil, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Sead Kolasinac, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud are on the sidelines and Wenger believes that the short-term provision to replace Coquelin would be to have some of them back in contention. However, Maitland-Niles remains the long-term fix for their defensive midfield problem.
"The best way to replace Coquelin is to get Aaron Ramsey Mesut Ozil back, that will help. After that we see. We have seen again that Maitland-Niles had an outstanding performance. He is a defensive midfielder, basically," Wenger said after the game, as quoted by the Mirror.
"What he is doing at the moment will help him develop as a player because he plays in a different position but at some stage I will play him in at defensive midfield. At the moment we have Monreal and Kolasinac injured and they will come back. So that is as well as opening for him in midfield."