Two Premier League teams and a Bundesliga side are readying bids for Ainsley Maitland-Niles, according to Sky Sports. The 22-year old played intermittently for Arsenal this season, opening the campaign as the first-choice right back and performing well but eventually falling out of favor. I rated him at a medium likelihood to be sold this summer in my departure roster rundown.
It’s not entirely clear what happened with Maitland-Niles that led to his extended spell without meaningful minutes. There were reports that he didn’t see himself as a right back and didn’t want to play there, but those were mostly refuted. He played in the first six matches under Mikel Arteta but then played a total of 70 minutes over the next 12. According to The Athletic, he was late to training once and “took the consequences” for his tardiness, but I doubt that fully accounts for his extended lack of playing time.
That Athletic article says Maitland-Niles is “thought to believe now is the right time to continue his career elsewhere” and that he “senses a lack of trust” from Mikel Arteta. Of course, that was written before he came off the bench against Liverpool, completely shut down the Reds attack down that flank, and kicked off a run of form that saw him start against Manchester City and in the FA Cup Final.
Are four or five matches of featuring in Mikel Arteta’s plans enough to convince Maitland-Niles (and Arteta, in truth) that there is a place for AMN at Arsenal next season? Maybe. I think it comes down to the player. He has to decide if he’s alright being the club’s Swiss Army Knife / utility player next season. And you have to think that hinges on how much playing time that equates to. There was talk that he might be in line for a spot at the base of the midfield because he played there in one of the Project Restart warm-up matches, but nothing has come of that yet.
I hope he stays. For me, he’s one of the better young players on the roster. He’s better than Joe Willock and has shown more than Reiss Nelson. As has been my refrain since I looked at next season’s congested schedule, Arsenal are going to need the deepest roster they can manage next season, and Maitland-Niles provides that depth. He’s a player that if I saw him on the teamsheet as part of a partially-rotated side, I wouldn’t be the slightest bit concerned about the squad being weaker for his inclusion, which is not something I can say about everybody currently on the roster.
But players want to play. If he’s decided that he wants a fresh start and more playing time, he should fetch a nice sum for Arsenal, especially if he goes to one of the Premier League clubs. He’s young, homegrown, and British. It’s difficult to gauge the current market, but I’ll try to benchmark. I’d be unhappy with £10M, fine with £15M, and thrilled to get £20M or more for him. It feels like we say it every year, but it’s even more true this window: to make more than one move, Arsenal will need to sell to buy.