Reports regarding the potential departure of Ainsley Maitland-Niles has led to uproar within the Arsenal community. Some just can’t believe we’re letting the Hale End academy graduate leave the club. So, I decided to dig a little deeper to find the logic behind the decision.
Today, Sky Sports announced Wolves are in “advanced talks” to sign Ainsley Maitland-Niles from Arsenal. After months of rumours which were kicked off by The Athletic‘s report in July that the Englishman was looking to leave the club, it seems a suitor for Maitland-Niles has been found.
Within The Athletic’s report, David Ornstein revealed that Maitland-Niles realised earlier this season that “he must leave the Emirates Stadium” if he is to attain “regular first-team game time.” Straightforwardly, he is no longer willing to play a bit-part role. He wants more. Unfortunately, Mikel Arteta just can’t offer him that yet.
Perhaps, also, Arteta will never be able to offer Maitland-Niles the deal he’s being presented with. Throughout his time in the first team, he has flourished in a defensive back three. In formations with a back four, Maitland-Niles tended to struggle. At right-back rather than right wing-back, some of his defensive deficiencies are exposed and his lack of attacking outlet is a worry. In turn, this is likely to conern Arteta.
For the long-term future, it’s probable that our Spanish head coach wants to deploy a 4-3-3 system. It’s just not particularly obvious where Maitland-Niles would fit within such a formation. He’s not offensively good enough to play as a winger or a number eight, he’s not physically imposing enough to play as a defensive midfielder, and he doesn’t look comfortable at right-back. Thus, Arteta can’t guarantee Maitland-Niles a long-term starting birth.
From Maitland-Niles’ viewpoint, you can understand why he feels he would be able to be guaranteed this at Wolves. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side always operate with a 3-4-3/3-5-2 system, formations which Maitland-Niles will feel he specialises in. He’ll think that he’ll be able to break into the first XI relatively easily at Wolves and nail down a spot in the team for years to come. Maitland-Niles likely sees a clear footballing path in the midlands which he doesn’t see in north London.
If Maitland-Niles is desperate for these starting opportunities, there is simply no point restricting him at Arsenal. His frustration will only continue to grow, the last thing you need during a squad rebuild when high morale is crucial.
Another fundamental part of a rebuild is selling and buying players. Unfortunately, this will also involve making some unpopular decisions regarding sales. While it would be helpful to keep Maitland-Niles for his versatility and quality, gaining around £20m is arguably equally helpful. Such money could be used to fund moves for the likes of Thomas Partey or Houssem Aouar; the significance of the loss could be less than the eventual reward.
If he could be kept, I’d love to see Maitland-Niles stay. He’s a player whose ability is doubtless. As Arsène Wenger once said, “we all are great admirers of Ainsley’s talent and of his quality. What you want from him is to push himself”. He could still go on to be a top-class player who could excel in any formation, not just a 3-4-3.
However, unfortunately, just like with any player, there is just no guarantee that he will reach such standards. At 22, one would’ve hoped Maitland-Niles would’ve found his best position and that he’d be thriving in a red and white shirt on a consistent basis. This isn’t quite the situation he finds himself in. Thus, Arsenal can afford to let him go.
Please, though, Arsenal, accept nothing less than £30m. Then, the logic portrayed in this article is valid.