Arsenal are not done trimming their roster for the rest of the season. Reports say that the Gunners’ utility player is on track for a loan to West Bromwich Albion for the remainder of the Premier League campaign, medicals pending. Maitland-Niles has struggled to crack the Arsenal starting lineup this season, despite the various injury absences in the midfield and at outside back. Those struggles could be in part because of a disconnect between where Maitland-Niles wants to play (midfield) and where Arsenal see his future (outside back).
What’s most important is that Maitland-Niles actually gets playing time somewhere, regardless of position. Given his England call-ups in the fall, he wants to play to give himself a shot at making the Euro roster. Arsenal need for him to play so that he continues to develop / rehabilitates what has likely been a decrease in transfer value most recently measured by an offer “below £20M” from Wolves that Arsenal rejected.
Maitland-Niles will definitely play at relegation-threatened West Brom, who sit in 18th place, 9 points adrift of safety. How valuable a boatload of playing time for a pretty terrible team will actually be is an open question, but it beats not playing at all.
It’s been a busy day for Ainsley Maitland-Niles transfer rumors. This morning, he looked most likely to be headed to Southampton. But the Saints pulled out of the negotiations, saying hesitancy from AMN and his negotiating team to commit suggested that he didn’t want to move to Southampton and that they only want players who “want to be here.” He’d also been linked to Leicester City, but Arsenal reportedly nixed that option, not wanting to strengthen a rival.
From the outside looking in, it feels like Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been handled poorly by the club. If you weren’t going to play him, especially in the face of a rash of injuries at the positions he supposedly plays, then why not loan or sell him in the previous window? During the restart, we heard that the reported disconnect between player and club about position wasn’t a real thing, but that same question is and has been rearing its head all season. Why loan him now with very little cover at outside back, a position in which he has, at times, deputized well?
Taking Arsenal’s side of things for a minute, it does feel as if Maitland-Niles and his team might not be the easiest bunch with whom to work. There’s not too much to go on beyond connecting faint dots and piecing snippets together, but it seems like one of those “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” things.
And it’s not as if AMN’s on-field product has forced Mikel Arteta to give him an extended run in the side. As has been the case his entire career, he’s shown flashes of high quality and had good runs of form, but consistency has been an issue. He was important in the FA Cup win and at the end of the restart. He was dire two weeks ago against Crystal Palace. He can totally shut down a talented opposing attacker, but he can struggle to complete basic, easy passes.
Hopefully this loan spell and the playing time that comes with it will give us more information with which to evaluate Ainsley Maitland-Niles. I honestly do not know the answer to “Is AMN an Arsenal-caliber player?” He might be. He might not be. If he’s only good enough to be a squad player, the club might be better served to cash-in on the value of a young, English player has to a mid-table Premier League team and reinvest elsewhere sooner rather than later.
Small aside: I think we need to be careful that his being a Hale End graduate doesn’t overly color our analysis. Yes, being a homegrown player has some value, but there is little room for sentimentality in the business of football.
Another aside: at what point does a 23-year old footballer who made his senior debut six years ago go from being a “promising talent” to “we probably know who he is as a footballer now?” My gut tells me we’re not there quite yet with AMN but we’re getting pretty close.
I digress. Bottom line, he’s (almost certainly) headed to West Bromwich Albion for the rest of the season. Hopefully he does well and develops.