Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Arsenal: Is it the end?
Updated: Jul 2
By Rob Worthington (Deputy Editor)
Speaking to The Telegraph three weeks ago, Ainsley Maitland-Niles revealed “I want a decision. I want some clarity.” Don’t we all, Ains.
The lack of clarity concerning Maitland-Niles’ future typifies his Arsenal career in its entirety. Maitland-Niles’ talent has been clear to see since his 2014 debut for the Arsenal first-team, but what he wants from his career has never been abundantly obvious.
In 2019, speaking to Sky Sports, Maitland-Niles said “I’d like to be a winger.” A year later, After his Man of the Match performance in the 2020 Community Shield final, he stated “I would be happy to fill in and slot in and do the job anytime, anyplace.” Then, during his loan spell with West Brom, the 23-year-old insisted he wants “to play in the centre of the pitch.”
Talk about a lack of clarity.
What is obvious, however, is that Ainsley Maitland-Niles does not want to be a right-back. Despite Sam Allerdyce’s advice to the Englishman that “If I were him, I would play wherever the manager picked me [at Arsenal]”, Maitland-Niles seems determined to ply his trade in a more offensive role in the future.
This is problematic for the Hale End Academy Graduate in regard to his Arsenal future. Whilst he contributed to the improvement of a poor West Brom side during the second half of the 20/21 season, his performances didn’t suggest he should walk back into the Arsenal first-team as a starter in a central role. It is thus difficult to see Maitland-Niles staying at Arsenal beyond the foreseeable future if he remains adamant on operating in the engine room.
Yet, Maitland-Niles‘ attitude in this respect must cause Mikel Arteta the utmost frustration. To a T, the 23-year-old’s skillset fits Arteta’s ideal right-back criteria. Not only does he have the pace to overlap, but he can also drift inside, therefore realising Arteta’s desire for his right-back to ‘invert.’
It appears strange that Maitland-Niles wouldn’t want to play in such a role. After all, in possession, it is pretty much a central-midfield role. Arsenal usually adopt something of a 2-3-5 shape on the ball with Kieran Tierney becoming the extra man in attack on the left while his opposite full-back joins Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey in midfield. A central role.
In terms of his player profile in its most simplistic form, Maitland-Niles’ profile clearly fits the bill for a modern-day full-back. Not only is he defensively astute, especially 1v1, but he has the athleticism to cause problems at the other end of the pitch also. One senses that if he truly immersed himself into the role he could become a top quality full-back.
Nevertheless, there lies the problem. He doesn’t want to immerse himself into such a role. And that is why Ainsley Maitland-Niles' somewhat tumultuous Arsenal journey will finally reach its conclusion this Summer.
That is the rather sad fact of the matter. Maitland-Niles could so easily have a big future at his boyhood club, but he isn’t willing to compromise. One would expect that he’ll deeply regret such unwillingness at the end of his career.
With recently-promoted Watford said to be interested, Maitland-Niles’ wishes will likely be satisfied. He will get a season of Premier League football operating in the middle of the park.
However, simultaneously, the Hale End academy graduate will have to say goodbye to the club who raised him, downgrade to a team of lesser stature and probably inhibit the potential he so obviously had when he broke into the Arsenal squad as a teenager. His desires just make such little sense.
Regardless, it is clear that Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ time at Arsenal has finally reached its end. Arsenal simply cannot offer him what he wants from his career. With no room for compromise on his side, the conclusion to this tale is obvious. Ainsley Maitland-Niles will leave Arsenal permanently this Summer.