Ainsley Maitland-Nile can’t seem to get a beat on his role at Arsenal, but one way or another, something has to get clearer, and soon.
Just when you’re about to forget about him, Ainsley Maitland-Niles springs up with a pretty crucial performance in a position you don’t expect. He has all the makings of Arsenal‘s “utility man,” a job that plenty of people have forfeited in the past.
Against Manchester City, Ainsley Maitland-Niles played left wingback, defying my belief that Mikel Arteta puts too much credence in the preferred foot, especially on the defense.
All in all, Maitland-Niles did what Maitland-Niles always does—the job. He played quite well, he combined with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, he defended well, he commanded his position well. He just looked like a wingback. Same as always.
Which just has me yet again questioning what the directive with this young man is. Rumors have emerged more than usual lately that he could well be on his way out.
I don’t doubt that at all. He wants to be a central midfielder and it’s looking less likely by the day that he will ever get that opportunity at Arsenal. It’s a shame that no manager has given him that opportunity and it honestly feels like it’s too late at this point. If it happens now, the question will be why it never happened in the past.
However, if Arteta is determined to sell him, then he’d likely be getting the same treatment as Mesut Ozil and Sokratis. Arteta makes it pretty obvious when he’s done with a player and he is not done with Maitland-Niles. You can’t call it desperation either, because there are options—Sead Kolasinac, mostly.
It’s hard to argue with Maitland-Niles if he wants to leave, but I also wonder what the big difference is between central midfield and wingback. It’s largely the same responsibilities, it’s just more isolated to one side of the pitch. You still get to attack and defend and you probably have more room than anywhere else on the pitch.
There are two angles here—what Maitland-Niles wants and what Arsenal is willing to give. Right now though, it seems like either Arsenal is winning, or Maitland-Niles is more open-minded then we’re being led to believe.
He’s not someone you want to lose, but it’s just unclear how both can win here. Then again, I love the way he’s being used. Which means it’s really just up to him.