With only two months remaining in the 20-21 Premier League season, the transfer carousel has begun spinning ahead of the summer transfer window. Arsenal’s midfield has been identified for several seasons as an area in need of considerable improvement. While most of the recent Arsenal transfer rumors have revolved around finding a way to make the loan of Martin Ødegaard a permanent move, it appears that the fate of at least one midfielder has been decided, as Ainsley Maitland-Niles is ready to depart his boyhood club in search of playing time and opportunity.
Exclusive: Ainsley Maitland-Niles has resolved to leave Arsenal this summer - and analysis of why his versatility will make him an attractive option in pandemic-hit market | @SamWallaceTel https://t.co/oq1vuvtZqT— Telegraph Football (@TeleFootball) April 1, 2021
Mikel Arteta has expounded for some time now on the need to reshape the team and bring in the right players to fit his tactics, putting the current rotation of midfielders on notice. The loans of Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi at the beginning of the season were the first dominos to fall in Arteta’s quest to separate the wheat from the chaff among a congested midfield roster. Joining them in the winter window were Joe Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, two young players in need of minuntes and a chance to prove their value ahead of what is shaping up to be an important transfer window for the Gunners.
Maitland-Niles’ tenure with the first team has been a frustrating one. He showed early glimpses of his quality during Arsene Wenger’s final season, and his break-out continued under Unai Emery. He made a name for himself with his relentless work rate and pace, but found himself deputizing in the defense at right back instead of his preferred midfield position after Hector Bellerin’s ACL injury. Since then, he has struggled to establish himself as a game-in, game-out starter under Arteta, leading to a mid-season loan to struggling West Bromwich Albion.
This decision isn’t wholly surprising. Maitland-Niles was linked to a move to Wolves following an impressive run of form at the end of last season, which included being a crucial contributor during Arsenal’s FA Cup winning campaign and earning his first call-up to the England senior team, but Arteta opted to keep the Academy product. Although he showed value and versatility at right back, Maitland-Niles vocalized his frustration over playing defense but contributed to the team when called upon.
At 23, Maitland-Niles still has his best years ahead of him, but his inability to stake his claim as a stalwart in the midfield has hamstrung his growth. No one can fault this decision, though. He has perpetually been on the cusp of breaking out for quite some time, much like Academy product and current Everton player Alex Iwobi before him. Ainsley has always been good, but just never quite great during his time with the first team, and a change of scenery might be what helps him find the success he hasn’t quite found at arsenal.
As a homegrown player, he will not be short on suitors despite a pandemic-affected transfer market, which is bit of a win-win for the player and for Arsenal. The Gunners will need to cash in on a number of player transfers if they want to compete for the caliber of players Arteta needs to return the club to an elite level, especially if the Gunners fail to qualify for European competition next season.
Nothing official has been solidified at this time, but it appears that Maitland-Niles’ time at the Emirates is all but over.