You may be familiar with this story already. A Hale End academy product who has already had a successful loan spell away from the club. Young, but without a defined role in the current Arsenal squad. Needing consistent minutes for the 2021-22 season, they are linked with several Premier League destinations that might make a good fit. Is it time to sell the player and move on or loan out for the season ahead and punt the decision to next summer?
While I wrote about this same situation a week ago for Reiss Nelson, nearly the same set of circumstances applies to Ainsley Maitland-Niles. After being a fringe squad player, Maitland-Niles played a pivotal role for Arsenal filling in at fullback and wingback on both the right and the left, despite his expressed desire to play in central midfield. However, his performances landed him his first senior England national team cap, making five appearances this past fall.
Ainsley Maitland- Niles and Arteta talk positioning pic.twitter.com/QAkMDpEsJj— Poorly Drawn Arsenal (@cantdrawarsenal) September 12, 2020
He then made a half-season move to West Brom where he finally got a run of starts in center midfield. Considering how poor West Brom were last season, Ainsley came in at got 12 straight starts with a record of 3 wins, 5 draws, and 4 losses, which included results against top four sides Manchester United and Chelsea. Ultimately, the Baggies were relegated and Maitland-Niles returned to Arsenal without a clear direction on his future.
It doesn’t seem like either Arteta or Edu believe he is a long-term solution for Arsenal’s central midfield. Nor does Maitland-Niles want to spend the next few seasons playing fill-in fullback/wingback. The most logical decision seems to be finding a club willing to buy him this summer or agree to a loan deal for the upcoming season with the promise to buy next summer.
The BBC reported earlier this week that Leicester City, Southampton, and Burnley all have varying levels of interest in adding Maitland-Niles. Last month The Mirror linked newly-promoted side Watford at a potential destination for Ainsley. And if you search long enough you’ll find rumors with Crystal Palace, Leeds United, and Newcastle as well, so let’s just assume all bottom-half clubs + Leicester at this point. Fans online like the idea of using AMN as a way for Arsenal to be able to afford Leicester's James Maddison, but it’s easy to see why so many club connections exist. He is 23, a homegrown player, and can play numerous positions.
If he wanted to retrain and focus on being a right-back option for Arsenal those discussions would have already happened and his contract situation would be resolved. Similarly, if Arteta wanted to use him in the midfield this would be a non-topic. Instead, Maitland-Niles’ time at Arsenal is limited, whether that be days/weeks until a full transfer, or a loan deal and resolving this next summer. Given the right club and situation, I believe he can be a consistent Premier League player.