Regular readers of this blog will know how much we support home grown youngsters.
It is always a delight to see a local lad get his chance and take it in an Arsenal shirt. Sadly for one reason or another, we have not produced enough young players over the last 20 years who have proved good enough for our team week in, week out.
Alex Iwobi, Jack Wilshere and Ashley Cole are the only academy graduates to have joined us at a young age to go on to make over 100 appearances since Ray Parlour in 1992 (note: Kieran Gibbs joined Arsenal at 15-years-old from Wimbledon).
All young lads coming through deserve extra support. They are often Arsenal boys living the dream.
But it is also important to know when a player is not going to make it. When it is time to cash in. Even if selling a home grown lad on the fringes of making it might by tinged with sadness.
Previously we discussed how Eddie Nketiah might be on borrowed to at Arsenal, but it is another Arsenal youngster who looks like he might be out of the door this summer.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles is 22. He has been in and around the first team for 6 seasons having made his debut at 17 years old in the Champions League back in 2014. In doing so he became the second youngest player to have represented Arsenal in the Champions League, behind Jack Wilshere.
He has gone on to make 91 appearances for Arsenal, but could have played his last game.
Maitland-Niles was an ever-present in Mikel Arteta’s first 6 games; with Hector Bellerin out injured he was called upon to play right back – the position he has played much of his Arsenal career.
He was on the bench against Chelsea, but has since not been in the match day squad for the last 4 games.
Maitland-Niles was left out of the squad for Saturday’s clash against West Ham despite Bellerin not being fully fit. Sokratis, a centre-back, chosen to play ahead of him at right-back.
In the past, Maitland-Niles has indicated that he would rather play in central midfield than at right back. However with Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi, Dani Ceballos and Joe Willock ahead of him, his opportunities in the middle of the park have been limited.
David Ornstein recently commented on the situation on The Ornstein & Chapman Podcast.
“Mikel Arteta isn’t receptive to players indicating where they want to play, they would play where they are told to play for the good of the team… one of the suggestions I got is that he has been late for a couple of training sessions and certainly Arteta wouldn’t like that given the disciple and behaviour and respect culture is so important to him.”
The reported reluctance to play right back is in stark contract to Bukayo Saka who has excelled at left back in recent weeks – despite being a more attacking player.
In January Arsenal added Portuguese international Cedric Soares on loan. With his contract set to expire in the summer, he will likely join the club permanently providing experienced Premier League cover and competition to Bellerin.
Had Maitland-Niles got his head down, he would have had a career at Arsenal as a James Milner-esque utility man; proving cover at full back, on the wings and central midfield. This utility might have seen him break into England squads where he could cover numerous positions at international tournaments.
If it is true that Maitland-Niles has a desire to play in central midfield, he will have to leave Arsenal to get it, and get himself a move to someone lower in the league.
It will be sad to lose the English – in the same way it was tough to let Iwobi go. But if these players have desires to play regularly, or in certain positions, and they are deemed not good enough to do that an Arsenal shirt; the club should not stand in their way.
Maitland-Niles will end up at someone like West Ham or Everton, where he will prove whether he is good enough to be a Premier League midfielder.
What is clear is his Maitland-Niles’ at Arsenal is coming to an end.