Ainsley Maitland-Niles ended up being one of the most important players in Arsenal’s FA Cup-winning campaign.
Playing left wing-back in both the semi-final and final, he put in two stellar performances to help the Gunners win the competition for the 14th time.
These performances came at the end of a difficult year for Maitland-Niles, who was a bit-part player unhappy at not playing in his favoured position. He was used as a makeshift right-back when Hector Bellerin was injured, and a left wing-back after Mikel Arteta’s switch to a back five – he’s previously spoken about his desire to play in midfield.
With Wolves said to have spoken to Maitland-Niles and having had their first bid rejected, Arsenal now have to make a decision on the future of the Englishman. His performances towards the end of the season under Arteta suggest that he can fit into the system well and he could become a regular in this side.
However, there are now three right-backs at Arsenal: Maitland-Niles, Bellerin and Cedric Soares, and one of them will likely have to leave this summer. Given Cedric has only just signed, it’ll be one of the remaining two.
But Arsenal have their decision to make over AMN, given the interest in him. Below are the cases for selling and keeping.
Maitland-Niles has struggled to break into the Arsenal team for any length of time. There is regularly talk that the 22-year-old is frustrated at not being given a chance further up the pitch than wing-back, or as a central midfielder.
At the start of last season, he came out in an interview with Sky Sports saying he’s “not a defender”.
His decision to speak out on the matter led to many questioning his attitude – if he isn’t happy to play in the position he’s picked in, he should leave.
If Arsenal are to try and push on to challenge in the top four and beyond, Maitland-Niles shouldn’t be a guaranteed starter.
He is still a promising youngster, yes, and does offer a lot of versatility, but he is not the top class wing-back you would need in a team challenging for silverware.
Arsenal are a club with limited scope for improvement this summer without selling first.
Maitland-Niles is one of only a few Arsenal players with any real value and if Wolves – or another interested side – match their valuation, he may be worth selling.
It’ll give Arsenal the money to strengthen, and the fans know they need to.
To many people’s surprise, Maitland-Niles was picked for both the semi-final and final of the FA Cup and was fantastic in both games. He provided an attacking threat down the left hand side and was solid defensively, allowing Arsenal to invite pressure and counter-attack effectively.
His performances were a reward to Mikel Arteta for the trust he showed in the player, potentially convincing him that he should stay at the club.
Nicolas Pepe said before he left Lille last summer that he wanted to join a club with overlapping full-backs. Since Bellerin’s return he has been a lot more cautious going forward, leaving Pepe isolated on the right hand side.
However, whenever Maitland-Niles plays, he is far more keen to get further up the pitch, allowing the Ivorian to be a bit more adventurous, often drifting centrally.
The Englishman’s eagerness to get forward could unleash Pepe and get the best out of him in the upcoming season.
Bellerin missed the start of last season due to a cruciate ligament injury. He only played three times on his return before a hamstring injury ruled him out for another six weeks.
If Arsenal are to rely on the Spaniard they need to be sure his worst days are behind him otherwise they may be in a position where they’re having to rely on Cedric…and nobody wants that.
In addition to his injury problems, the Spaniard is reportedly being watched by Juventus and PSG and is considering leaving north London for a new challenge. If Bellerin leaves, or his injury problems continue, then Arsenal must keep Maitland-Niles.
The cases to sell outweigh the benefits of keeping Maitland-Niles, though.
The Englishman has three years left on his contract and as a 22-year-old homegrown player, his value is high. The Gunners are in need of a dramatic squad overhaul and in order to afford it, they are going to need to sell some players.
Maitland-Niles is the perfect sale in this scenario as he is not a guaranteed starter, and he could bring in a good fee that will allow Arteta to bring in the players he wants to rebuild this Arsenal side.
If the right offer comes in, Arsenal should press ahead.