Amid concerns about his development and career, Ainsley Maitland-Niles reportedly wants to leave Arsenal this summer. Losing him would be far from ideal.
It has been a strange old season for Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Heralded under Unai Emery, a brilliant season-opening performance against Newcastle United. Then injury struck as Arsenal struggled, before being welcomed back into the starting XI under Mikel Arteta.
His best run of form came during the opening weeks under Arteta. In an inverted right-back role, Maitland-Niles enjoyed his best run of form of his career. He finally seemed willing to commit to being a right-back, Arteta’s contorted role was perfect for him, and he was ready to rival Hector Bellerin as the starter.
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Then, when Bellerin returned from injury, Maitland-Niles disappeared. He has made only four appearances in the last 12 league matches. All are from off the bench. He has completed one complete match since January 18th, an FA Cup quarter-final against Sheffield United, and has missed out on the matchday squad entirely on four occasions since his run of starts. And now, after just one start upon football’s restart and having fallen behind Cedric Soares in the right-back pecking order, his future has come to ahead.
Per David Ornstein of the Athletic, Maitland-Niles has accepted that he must leave Arsenal to further his career. Despite his contract running until June 2023, he feels that Arteta does not trust him and that he will not be afforded the requisite playing time, especially in central midfield, where he believes he is best suited. As such, Maitland-Niles will push for a departure in the summer, with interest from England and Germany.
An exit would be far from ideal. Maitland-Niles has proven his capability, including under Arteta, but for some reason, the Spaniard has turned to other, lesser options in the 22-year-old’s stead. Thanks to his technical ability and positional intelligence, he seems ideal for the hybrid right-back role that Kyle Walker plays at Manchester City. He is also very athletic and is comfortable in a high-pressing system.
Losing this type of player is never a smart move, especially when looking to build a long-term project under a new manager with limited finances to add new talent. That said, if Maitland-Niles is keen to move and Arteta seems unwilling to trust him, which ostensibly is the case given he has rarely used the midfielder since Bellerin’s return, a sale seems inevitable.
Ultimately, as is the case with Matteo Guendouzi, Mesut Ozil, and other star players in the squad that Arteta may look to move on from this summer and beyond, it is his way or the highway. And when trying to lay down the law, instil a new culture, and build a team, that is precisely what any new manager must do.
If Arteta does not want Maitland-Niles or does not believe in Maitland-Niles or simply has no desire to handle him, Arsenal must back their manager, however unideal it may seem.