Ainsley Maitland-Nile was overtaken by Sokratis at rightback for Arsenal and it’s time to just face up to the fact that something is clearly wrong here.
There will always be questions asked of any starting XI the minute it’s announced, most of which don’t need to be asked. But every so often you come across an incredibly valid question, and against Olympiakos, Arsenal had one—why was Sokratis playing rightback with Ainsley Maitland-Niles on the bench?
The simplest answer would have been that Maitland-Niles wasn’t back to full fitness yet. But that wasn’t the case at all. He hasn’t been injured, despite how much he’s disappeared from the first team set-up. He’s just really out of favor.
There were even some Mikel Arteta quotes floating around that may have hinted that Bukayo Saka is handling playing leftback better than others who are being asked to play out of position, and some think that may refer to Maitland-Niles.
It’s all rather confusing. When Arsenal went and signed Cedric Soares, the first thing I fell in love with was how this would free up Maitland-Niles to play his more preferred roles. As he would no longer have to back-up Hector Bellerin, he could slip into the midfield or play as a winger.
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Instead, despite Soares not playing due to injury, Maitland-Niles hasn’t played at all either. Well, baring a couple minutes in stoppage time in Greece.
There’s something wrong here, and it’s probably much worse than we think. Matteo Guendouzi had a bust-up with Arteta that was widely spoken about, yet he got right back into the starting XI for this one with just one match out of the squad. Maitland-Niles was also out of the squad for that match—the Newcastle match—and he only got about two minutes to stretch his legs.
Maybe Soares wasn’t the best thing for Maitland-Niles. Maybe it hasn’t pushed Maitland-Niles into midfield contention, but rather pushed him out of the club. It doesn’t seem likely, as Arteta is a very thoughtful, intelligent guy, but he’s also very determined, especially when he has a plan.
If Maitland-Niles isn’t part of that plan, then it’s going to take a Granit Xhaka-esque miracle to keep him around much longer.
I just hope we get to see more of him, and soon. He’s incredibly talented and he really never has been given a fair shake at making life in the midfield work.