After a challenging start to the season that encompassed some dismal results, Arsenal U23s appear to have turned a corner and have performed with a significantly greater amount of cohesion during their last two fixtures.
Perhaps that improvement is partly down to the coaching staff’s decision to try out certain players in different positions. It is commonplace for youngsters to frequently alter their role on the pitch as they progress through the ranks, and these four young Gunners have experienced such changes recently.
Ben Sheaf- Central-midfield to centre-back
Sheaf is used to playing in different positions having previously been used at right-back and on the right-wing, but nobody could have foreseen the 18-year-old excelling at centre-back this season.
The former West Ham United player had never played at the heart of the defence prior to this campaign but, despite some initial teething problems, he has settled in very well and was excellent in the goalless draw with Southampton as he made some fine interceptions and clearances.
What started out as a temporary experiment when Krystian Bielik was with the first-team has now turned into something more long-lasting, and Sheaf appears to offer Arsenal U23s much greater defensive security than Kristopher Da Graca, despite the latter being a natural centre-back.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles- right-wing to defensive-midfield
A comparatively subtle change, but a significant one nonetheless, Maitland-Niles has been anchoring the midfield for Arsenal U23s of late.
The prospect, who spent last season on loan at Ipswich Town, has been used in numerous positions for Arsenal and featured for the first-team at right-back against Nottingham Forest in the EFL Cup.
In the 2014/15 campaign Maitland-Niles thrived as a central-midfielder for the Arsenal second-string and he is now playing in a slightly deeper position. Although not a natural defender, he is still capable of breaking up play, while his midfield partner Gedion Zelalem occasionally drops deeper to allow Maitland-Niles to push forwards.
Ismael Bennacer- defensive midfield to right-wing
Bennacer delivered some impressive performances at the base of the midfield in his first season at Arsenal as the Algeria international showcased his ability to make a significant contribution both defensively and going forwards.
The youngster started the season slowly, however, and frequently found himself overrun in midfield, which prompted the coaching staff to move him out to the right-wing.
Of all the recent positional changes, this one seems the least successful so far as Bennacer doesn’t possess the pace and crossing ability required of wingers. He is, however, capable of linking play extremely well and can drift inside to good effect.
Stephy Mavididi- striker to number ten
A powerful, hard-working player, Mavididi has made a significant impact for Arsenal at youth level in recent years and has been a regular on the scoresheet.
Perhaps in a bid to improve the starlet’s link-up play, Mavididi has often played as a number ten this season and he has performed well, playing some slick passes, whilst still getting into dangerous attacking areas himself.