Arsenal seemed to be leaning towards Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the run-up to the return, but now he’s lost his chance yet again.
It’s really hard to see a player not get what he wants. Especially a player that I think it’s safe to say we all generally like. It’s what happened with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and his inevitable exit from Arsenal. He wanted what he wanted and he never got it.
I’ve been reluctant to parallel the Ox with Ainsley Maitland-Niles for fear of bad juju, or something similar, but we’re seeing more and more of it now, especially with the return to action, which has seen all of nothing from Maitland-Niles.
In the friendlies that preluded the return to actual Premier League action, Ainsley Maitland-Niles was given a chance in the midfield and he did pretty well on an individual level. It seemed like he was going to be given his opportunity.
Unfortunately for him, with Granit Xhaka healthy and Matteo Guendouzi like a phoenix from the ashes, the opportunity just wasn’t there.
Only it was, it was just given to Joe Willock.
And then Granit Xhaka got hurt and Willock got benched and you had to believe that Maitland-Niles was finally going to get that Premier League opportunity in the midfield.
Only he didn’t. Rather, Mikel Arteta slipped Dani Ceballos next to Matteo Guendouzi and repurposed Bukayo Saka to a midfielder instead of Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
For me, that was the final blow to Maitland-Niles hopes. This midfield was begging for a solution and Maitland-Niles was passed up in favor of someone younger, more talented, and who has gone through the same phases of Maitland-Niles frustration.
It wasn’t that long ago that Saka was forced to play fullback, same as Maitland-Niles. He wanted to play somewhere else, not even in the midfield, but as a winger.
Then, when the chance opened up for Maitland-Niles, Saka was moved out of position to play the position that Maitland-Niles wanted. How do you come back from that as Maitland-Niles? I honestly don’t think you can. I think that his lot is cast. He either has to be okay at fullback or he has to go seek his fortunes elsewhere like Oxlade-Chamberlain did.
It feels like this may be the end of the line for Maitland-Niles. Saka isn’t going to be unseated because he hasn’t done anything wrong and Arteta has made it bountifully clear that he’s not a priority.