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What Could Have Been at Arsenal

With a major squad rebuild on the agenda this summer, we are expected to see a few outgoings before the transfer window closes in October. It has been claimed that Ainsley Maitland-Niles is in advanced talks with Wolves, with a bid of around £15m being offered for his services.

If Ainsley Maitland-Niles leaves, it would be a sad and premature end to his Arsenal career, because he had real potential to be successful at the club. Unfortunately, it’s now looking like a case of what could have been.

Maitland-Niles was one of the first Hale End youth products to break into the first team, making a total of 28 appearances in Arsene Wenger’s final season. It was his performance in the centre of midfield against Manchester United that season that got us thinking that we had unearthed a gem, even earning the praise of Paul Pogba.

Unfortunately, due to the numbers in central midfield, getting game time was always going to be difficult for him. Due to this, he was switched to an unfamiliar full-back role when Unai Emery took charge, and although he didn’t look comfortable, he showed promise. There were signs that he could adapt to the modern full-back role given his pace, while his attacking intent proved a threat on the right-hand side; however, inconsistencies saw him caught out defensively several times and criticism inevitably followed.

The beginning of the end of Maitland-Niles’ career began when he said publicly that he wasn’t happy playing in the full-back position. As a midfielder by trade, we needed to be patient if he was going to continue in the full-back position.

When Mikel Arteta took over in December he made it clear from the offset that players who didn’t understand their roles or who didn’t want to fight would not be considered. It was around this time that we started to see less and less of Maitland-Niles, with rumors that Mikel Arteta was unimpressed with his attitude in training – something that intensified when he was dropped from several first team squads.

Even when he did make the occasional appearance, he seemed disinterested. We did witness something of a resurgence when football restarted in June, where he filled in at left wing-back, excelling against Chelsea and Manchester City in the FA Cup. However, that resurgence seems to have been short-lived as he has asked been tipped for a move away from the club – with the first bid rejected, but another bite of the cherry expected.

At the age of 22, it’s very possible that Maitland-Niles would have improved with Arteta at the club. Unfortunately, his attitude and a lack of patience has proven to be his downfall. Maitland-Nile’ Arsenal career seems to have gone down the same path as so many youth prospects before him; early potential and hope for the future, but ultimately a case of what could have been.

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