David Ornstein reported today in The Athletic that Ainsley Maitland-Niles may be leaning towards an exit from Arsenal this summer. He believes that he needs regular first team football to continue developing and doesn’t believe Mikel Arteta can provide that next season. He’s right.
Ornstein notes, “...Maitland-Niles senses a lack of trust in him from Arteta and he would welcome the chance to explore a fresh opportunity away from his boyhood club, with interest coming from England and Germany.”
Looking at the current depth chart, where does AMN fit in? Over the past two seasons he’s functioned as the emergency right-back while Hector Bellerin was out injured. Now with Bellerin & Cedric Soares, AMN is third in line. Meanwhile, if the club keeps Callum Chambers he can function as a last resort third-option RB, or Zak Swanson from the U23s.
Midfield? Arteta currently has Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, Joe Willock, Mattéo Guendouzi (who looks like he could be another exiting player), and rumors of another loan or full deal for Dani Ceballos. Considering most think Arteta needs to bring in one or two more midfielders this summer, players have to move on, and Maitland-Niles has never been given the chance to show he is the player we need in the midfield.
Emergency left back? Kieran Tierney, Sead Kolasinac, and Bukayo Saka are there, not to mention two U23 players that could break through. Winger depth? Arteta plays Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Bukayo Saka, Nicolas Pepe, Reiss Nelson, and Gabriel Martinelli there. AMN would likely be the 6th option on either flank of the attack.
Ainsley started at the Arsenal academy at age six and has only spent one season away from the club during those 17 years(!). That was a loan to Ipswich Town for the 2015-16 season, which allowed him to play a part in 32 matches, the most in his career for a single year. Now after six seasons since his jump from the Arsenal Academy, AMN needs to be a regular starter, and not just when a position is decimated by injury.
However, this doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, the end of his time at the Emirates. He is valued at $16 million by Transfermarkt and Arsenal need funds for Mikel Arteta to begin to reshape this squad. That won’t happen in one window, but the club needs player turnover and the resources to do so. What the club doesn’t want to happen is to see another young Gunner leave and develop into a star player at another club, like Serge Gnabry and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain.
Which is why any transfer of AMN out of North London this summer needs to have a buy-back clause and right of first refusal. Or as a last option a year long loan, but that comes with its own risk for all parties involved. He is still just 22, and after two seasons getting first team football each and every week, either in England or abroad, he could develop into a player Arsenal need at the time.
During that window the Gunners’ midfield should dramatically adjust, if that is where Maitland-Niles ends up playing, as well as inevitable shifts at the fullback and winger positions. Just leave the possibility open. Ainsley knows it’s time to move on. It’s in his best interest and Arsenal’s, it just shouldn’t mean the end.