Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been with Arsenal since he was six, making his professional debut for the club as far back as 2014, but in all his years at the club, he has never nailed down a starting berth, as his versatility has seen him feature in a lot of positions on pitch, making him Arsenal’s
John O’Shea Jack-of-all-trades, yet master of none. However, he made his opinions known ahead of his move to West Brom last year, clearly stating that he wants to play only in midfield – a desire that was granted by the West Midlands outfit. With the emergence of Conor Gallagher in West Brom’s midfield that season, Maitlands-Niles was reduced to just 12 appearances, returning back to the club at the start of this season following the disappointing spell.
It seemed that he was in Mikel Arteta’s plans at the start of the new campaign, and we all saw the reactions that panned out after the Gunners blocked a move to Everton, with the young midfielder banned from first-team training following his rants for missing out on the Everton move. Arsenal had promised him more game time, but he ended up playing just 472 minutes of Premier League football, which clearly made him agitate for a move in the winter transfer window. It was surprising seeing him make a move abroad, to play under Jose Mourinho of all people, but the manager’s desire to allow him get his wishes of consistent football saw Arsenal approve the loan move to AS Roma.
26 games into the Serie A this season, Roma is currently languishing in eighth place and will be without their manager, Mourinho, for two games, after he was banned following a burst-up with the match referee, earning himself a red card for his struggles. Maitland-Niles has only featured in six games for Roma, starting just five and making a substitute appearance. To add to his woes, he hasn’t even been deployed in his favored midfield position in the games he played.
|OPPONENT||DURATION ON PITCH||POSITION|
|Juventus at home (3-4 loss)||90 minutes||Right Back|
|Cagliari at home (1-0 win)||89 minutes||Right Back|
|Hellas Verona at home (2-2 draw)||66 minutes||Left Winger|
|Empoli away (2-4 win)||59 minutes||Left Wing Back|
|Genoa at home (0-0 draw)`||57 minutes||Left Wing Back|
|Sassuolo way (2-2 draw)||14 minutes (replaced Vina)||Left Wing Back|
He also featured in one Coppa Italia game against Lecce, playing only 45 minutes as a left back before yanked off at half time. These handful of appearances clearly show that he’s unlikely to be retained at the club and the harsh comments from his manager all but confirmed it,
“He (Maitland-Niles) hasn’t impacted a lot. Maybe he hasn’t settled in yet. He is having a hard time grasping the type of football in Italy.
“English football is quite different. If you join a team that is not in good condition, it’s not easy to fit in.
There are players who have come to complete a staff. They (AMN and Sergio Olivera) aren’t ones who make the difference.”
Such comments do not instill any confidence to the player and Arsenal, especially when you recall that Roma requested for an option to buy clause to be added to the deal, and the Gunners refused. When Maitland-Niles returns to the club this summer, he will have only one year left on his deal, so the club will have to make a decision of whether to keep him or cash in before he joins the #FreeTransfer Departure Gang.
Arsenal will certainly be at crossroads with Maitland-Niles because with rumors of Cedric Soares leaving this summer, and Calum Chamber already gone to Villa Park, he offers a stop-gap solution at right back to deputise for Takehiro Tomiyasu, that’s if Hector Bellerin decides to join Real Betis on a permanent basis. The Gunners are also very light in midfield, as the challenges showcased in January (Thomas Partey and Mo Elneny left for AFCON), Granit Xhaka struggling with COVID and suspension, leaving Sambi Lokonga as the only option in midfield in that period. Having a Maitland-Niles would have cushioned the paucity of numbers in central midfield. On the other side of the divide, you have a player that will never be a first teamer, and has some transfer value that can be used to bring in someone of better quality.
Finally, it will lie on the ambitions of the player himself – will he be content with a final campaign with the Gunners that will see him be on the fringes for the entirety of next season, or will he instruct his agent to earn his pay and find a new club for him. I’m currently edging towards the latter, as I don’t see him remaining a Gunner any longer.
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