Mikel Arteta is still forming his ideas for the future of the Arsenal squad. With that in mind, here are three players who now face a defining year regarding their careers in north London.
Mikel Arteta is still working out just what he can get out of the current players in the Arsenal squad. While he has made serious progress with the team in his first five months as head coach, when it comes to the long-term rebuild, there are still plenty of decisions to make regarding which players he can rely on and which need to be improved upon. And as Arteta has made quite clear, it is on the players to prove to him that they are committed to and capable of the role he requires of them.
So, here are the top three players in the squad who face a defining year in which they must impress Arteta.
3. Ainsley Maitland-Niles
Ainsley Maitland-Niles might have already missed his chance. The central midfielder turned winger turned right back turned back into a central midfielder has shown glimpses of what he is capable of. He was superb as a fill-in right-back in the opening weeks of Arteta’s tenure. He performed admirably at left-back and wing-back under Arsene Wenger, while Unai Emery always thought highly of him also.
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However, upon Hector Bellerin’s return to fitness, Maitland-Niles was immediately dropped from the team, eventually slipping out of the matchday squad entirely with centre-back Sokratis even playing ahead of him at right-back. Arteta said, “Ainsley needs to put his head down and work hard and show me every day in training that he wants it more than anyone else, he wants to play for this club and fight for his place,” in a press conference in early-March following a run of matches out of the team.
Bellerin returned in the 2-2 draw versus Chelsea. Maitland-Niles sat on the bench and then missed out on the squad in every league game since then. He will turn 23 in the summer so still has time on his side, but it is running out. Maitland-Niles needs to find a position, somehow get back in the team, and start performing. Otherwise, he could be on his way out of the club. And it might already be too late.