“Lord, what a difference a day makes…”
A matter of hours ago, Arsenal fans were intrigued by the prospect of selling one of their academy products for a figure in the region of £20m; funding that would go some way towards helping the club obtain their key targets this summer.
It’s a case of selling before buying for Mikel Arteta, who has already spent £7.2m making Pablo Mari’s loan move permanent, while a £27m deal for Gabriel Magalhaes is just a matter of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.
A penalty shootout victory over Liverpool, no matter how impressive, does not mask over the need to reinforce the squad before 6 October in order to enhance the Gunners’ chances of securing a top four berth next season. However, they may need to reassess who makes way for funding after a man-of-the-match display from Maitland-Niles.
The most versatile member at Arteta’s disposal put in another disciplined shift at left wing-back, marshaling the threat of Mohamed Salah for long periods at Wembley – his performance being topped off with an ice-cold penalty after the 1-1 draw.
He was, in no lesser terms, quite superb on Saturday. And in the blink of an eye, perceptions from the fanbase have been altered drastically in favour of retaining the Hale End graduate.
Perhaps this sudden change in mindset is more emotive than we think. As good as Maitland-Niles was, he put in similar displays – in unfavoured positions again – in both the semi-final and final of the FA Cup, overseeing victories against Manchester City and Chelsea respectively.
Given that the interest in the 23-year-old is now concrete with Wolves’ failed £15m bid, seeing Maitland-Niles demonstrate his professionalism again directly after such movements in the transfer market has re-opened the debate on whether he should be sold.
It’s largely agreed that cashing in on the midfielder-by-trade is not Arteta’s preferred means of garnering funding. Maitland-Niles wants to further his career playing in central midfield, thus has considered his future, but he’s excelling in the wing-back slot, earning recognition from Gareth Southgate in the process.
Lifting the Community Shield on his birthday, being the best player on the park and then securing a maiden senior England call-up to top it all off, maybe he, just like Arsenal, will revise their thinking.
Should Arsenal do so, or is this now an opportunity to command an even higher fee for their versatile man? £15m now looks a snip for player improving week upon week, who is on course to earn a maiden international cap.
Arteta clearly thinks otherwise, a position cemented by his decision to field Maitland-Niles for the big occasions. The Spaniard said: “The best way to show that is that I have played him in the most important games of the season and he responded really well, so that’s where we are with the player.”
This is unlikely to change after another impressive display.
With significant deadwood needing to be trimmed to stand any chance of securing their preferred targets, there is scope to accrue funds elsewhere within the squad without the need to sell the Wolves target.
Everyone does, however, have their price. If someone where to test the waters with a bid doubling the one already received, it’s hard to see Arsenal standing firm. That would have been before Raul Sanllehi left, though.
Now, with Arteta and Edu leading the recruitment side of matters, who, and at what price they sell, will be managed differently.
Maitland-Niles declared after securing the Community Shield: “I’m an Arsenal player until I’m told otherwise. My heart is with this club. Whilst I’m here I’m going to give 100% every time.”
That shift in attitude comes down the manager’s influence. Under Unai Emery, it was made very clear by Maitland-Niles that he had no interest in being fielded as a full-back or wing-back. At that point, selling seemed the only option. Now, with two Wembley wins in two successive matches, the turnaround is quite striking.
Every team needs that kind of player. One who can come in when numbers are light, pick up the pieces across the starting lineup and put in a dedicated performance each time they take to the field. Y’know, your John O’Shea type. Yet, working off recent months – and Saturday in particular – Maitland-Niles doesn’t need to be that player. He is very much the player.
Arteta fancies him, he does a better job at wing-back then the club’s actual wing-backs, so operating as a utility player may be out of the question. There is no reason for him not to be a regular starter for the coming campaign, wherever that position may be. Someone who you can bend and mould into any one position wouldn’t come cheap in today’s market.
Even if they did, they wouldn’t have connection to the club that Maitland-Niles does.
If the figures being mentioned for the Goodmayes-born man were much higher, then this debate might not be so conflicting. But as it stands, £15m is nowhere close to what he is, and could, be worth in the future.
Sell to buy, yes. But not him. Not on this form.
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