Arsenal eased into the Europa League semi-finals with victory at Napoli on Thursday night and Ainsley Maitland-Niles is putting the success down to the Gunners emulating their continental counterparts.
Alexandre Lacazette’s first-half free-kick was enough to seal a 1-0 win at the Stadio San Paolo and a 3-0 aggregate victory over a Napoli side currently second in Serie A.
Unai Emery will now come up against former club Valencia in the last four as he aims to win a fourth Europa League title of his managerial career and end his first season in England with both silverware and Champions League qualification.
Maitland-Niles, who enjoyed another strong showing at right wing-back in Naples, believes that learning how European teams see out crunch ties is helping Arsenal this season.
“It’s a tough league in England,” he said, with Arsenal currently fourth heading into the weekend’s fixtures.
“We’re learning different methods in Europe because sometimes we need to be more like the foreign teams and stick with it for 90 minutes and just grind out results and it’s going well at the moment.
“I think we’re gelling together very well. The manager is working with a back four, a back five, so we all know positionally what to do, not to dive in in the box and not to give silly fouls away around the box as well.
“We dug deep (against Napoli). You can score as many goals as you want but if you don’t defend properly then the game could go either way, as we saw in the Champions League (with Tottenham against Manchester City).”
Since Hector Bellerin suffered a serious knee injury, Maitland-Niles has become Emery’s first-choice down the right – whether as an orthodox right-back or in the position he played in Naples.
England Under-21 international Maitland-Niles praised the way Emery has nurtured his talent so far and also worked to improve the squad as a whole.
“That’s what you need, for the manager to pat you on the back when you don’t do well,” he added.
“And when you do do well, to pat you on the back even harder and say ‘look, this is fantastic’. And he’s done that throughout the whole season for me.
“The manager has given us a lot of confidence. He’s backing us and he believes in us so much.
“We believe in each other more and more each day. And we’re growing as a team and the spirit is very high. We all look to each other for inspiration.”
One sour note on what was a comfortable evening in Italy was an injury to midfielder Aaron Ramsey.
The Wales international may have played his last game for Arsenal after limping off with what Emery described as a muscular injury.
Ramsey will sign for Juventus on a free transfer when his contract at the Emirates Stadium expires this summer and, when asked on his way to the team coach after the game if he would be okay, the 28-year-old replied: “We’ll see.”
With a Europa League semi-final on the horizon, Arsenal will now turn attention to their Premier League clash with Crystal Palace at the Emirates on Sunday looking to maintain their place in the top four.
- Press Association