Ainsley Maitland-Niles first burst onto the scene a few seasons ago under Arsene Wenger, where he was an instant hit with the fans. His composure with the ball at his feet and ability to glide past opposing midfielders with great ease and aplomb made him hard to keep out of the starting XI.
However, as time has gone on, the natural midfielder has been molded into a defender, a full-back to be precise. And to no fault of his own, the Englishman has struggled to make an impression in this position and he has simply blended in. It is not his natural position, after all, so this is to be expected.
He hasn’t had much luck under Mikel Arteta either, since the Spanish boss seems set in his ways of keeping a midfield pivot of Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira, with Matteo Guendouzi providing backup alongside the potential arrival of a new midfield arrival this summer. This puts Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ future in doubt.
He is 22 years old and, in all honesty, ready to be a first-team regular. But he’s not getting that, and Mikel Arteta can’t promise he’ll get that anytime soon. This is why it comes as no surprise to see reports from the Daily Star claiming he is expected to leave this summer, a mutual agreement between the player and manager, it seems.
Losing Maitland-Niles is certainly not ideal for the fans, he is one of the hottest prospects, just being used in the wrong way. However, as he comes out of the developmental stage of his career, it’s understandable that he is looking for stable playing time. He needs it, as he prepares to enter his prime. He also needs to be playing as a midfielder, not a full-back.
Therefore, as a fan, I cannot be disheartened by Ainsley’s decision. I just wish the club gave him more reason to stay.
Cover image: Chensiyuan, 2018