Ainsley Maitland-Niles takes Arsenal chance but Nicolas Pepe frustration remains after Leeds Carabao Cup win

·3-min read
Ainsley Maitland-Niles takes Arsenal chance but Nicolas Pepe frustration remains after Leeds Carabao Cup win

Given the fact Mikel Arteta made nine changes, Tuesday night was always going to be an opportunity for Arsenal’s fringe players to stake their claim for more minutes.

In the end, some showcased why they deserve further chances, while others demonstrated why they are on the sidelines right now.

Seeing as Arsenal progressed through to the Carabao Cup quarter-finals with a relatively routine win, it feels only right to start with the positives and those who seized this opportunity.

Chief among those were Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Eddie Nketiah, two players who spent all summer being linked with moves away from Arsenal and who still have uncertain futures ahead of the January transfer window.

Whether they were putting themselves in the shop window on Tuesday or not, they certainly did their chances of more action at Arsenal no harm.

Nketiah grabbed Arsenal’s second goal, scoring in a manner typical of the 21-year-old as his tireless pressing was rewarded when he pounced on a lost header from Liam Cooper back to Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier. Maitland-Niles, meanwhile, impressed in the middle of the park as he broke up play and started attacks with a good array of passing.

“Today I felt he (Maitland-Niles) had a really good performance,” said Arteta. “We have used him a lot and in different moments he has played minutes.

“He can cover different positions, that's the bonus that Ainsley has and again he kept trying and trying to improve every single day.”

Everton wanted to sign Maitland-Niles on loan in the summer and you suspect suitors will return in January. The same goes for Nketiah, who was a target for Crystal Palace before a move broke down over personal terms. Now the striker could leave for free at the end of the season, although Arteta has said he wants him to stay.

“I have full belief that he is going to be a top player and hopefully at Arsenal,” said Arteta. “I have no doubts about what he can offer.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

“Whatever you throw at him, he wants more, and demands more of himself, and he’s another one that I am delighted to see the performance and for him to score the goal and help the team, because he totally deserves it.”

Nketiah’s goal in the 69th minute was Arsenal’s second of the night. Their first came 14 minutes before when Calum Chambers headed home with his first touch of the game.

The defender was on hand to score after Nicolas Pepe had headed a corner back across the box, but the Ivorian’s assist masks what was otherwise a frustrating night for him.

Pepe’s final ball was lacking and, even if there was the odd moment of trickery or skill, it wasn’t followed up with the necessary quality to carve out a chance.

We have seen these nights before with Pepe, whose Arsenal career has been defined by his inconsistency. On his day, the 26-year-old can be unplayable, but the frustration is that it does not happen enough for a player who cost £72million.

Pepe wasn’t the only one who didn’t take his chance on Tuesday and the same could arguably said for Mohamed Elneny, who was outshone by Maitland-Niles. Gabriel Martinelli also failed to sparkle and, despite what Arteta says, it feels like he would benefit from a loan.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Overall, though, Arteta will be very happy with a win that now means Arsenal are unbeaten in their last eight games.

That is some going when you consider two months ago on Thursday they were being thrashed 5-0 by Manchester City on their way to a third Premier League defeat in a row.

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