When The Daily Mirror reported last week that Tottenham Hotspur were interest in signing Ainsley Maitland-Niles, the story was rightly dismissed as the type of ridiculous rumour you see in every transfer window. It would be nonsensical for Arsenal to allow a Hale End graduate, who is now a first-team regular, to trade north London territories.
However, it became clear last week that multiple Premier League clubs are interested in securing Maitland-Niles’ services. Wolves, Newcastle United and Everton are all thought to be keen on capturing the 22-year-old.
Read on below for our breakdown of why his sale should not be sanctioned.
Following Mikel Arteta’s arrival as Arsenal manager in December last year, the Spaniard deemed Maitland-Niles surplus to requirements. After the England U23 international did not play a minute of Arteta’s first five games in charge, he was told he would be free to leave in the summer.
A key reason behind this was that Arteta felt Maitland-Niles was unwilling to adapt to playing at right-back. The youngster was keen to pursue a move elsewhere so he could start in his preferred central midfield position.
When football was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, the break allowed Maitland-Niles to turn over a new leaf. He realised that he would either have to play at right-back or he would simply not get any action in an Arsenal shirt.
Therefore, his post-lockdown emergence is an extremely encouraging sign.
A sparkling performance at Wolves coupled with impressive displays against Sheffield United and Manchester City showed Arteta what he needed to know: Maitland-Niles could fulfil his role at right-back with consistence and confidence.
It was in the FA Cup Final against Chelsea where his individual performance was most important. Playing as a left-wing back, he was incisive in attack and dependable in defence, helping the Gunners to lift the FA Cup for the 14th time.
The most important aspect of Maitland-Niles’ efforts at Wembley were that they were a demonstration, to Arteta and the player himself, that he possesses the talent and ability to become a reliable starter for the foreseeable future. Therein lies the reason why it would be such a grave error to sell him to another Premier League club: he is only going to improve from this moment onwards, so should be allowed to develop at Arsenal rather than enhancing the squad of another top-flight club. Having previously been petulant and pessimistic about Arteta’s request for him to play as a wing-back, he has now made that role his own.
Versatility is Key
The Hale End product’s versatility makes him an extremely useful player to have in your squad as he can cover either flank, as a full-back or winger, as well as central midfield. Were he to be moved on, his current value is a cause for concern. Reports say Wolves him at around £20m, but for a young, home-grown academy product, Maitland-Niles’ price will only increase with the more game time he sees.
This makes the permanent signing of Cédric all the more baffling. Why, with two solid right-backs in their squad in Maitland-Niles and Hector Bellerín, did Arsenal offer a four-year contract to a player who will turn 31 at the end of August? With Maitland-Niles and Bellerín both having strong finishes to the 2019/20 season, it would be a seismic shock if Cédric were to establish himself as a starter for the upcoming campaign.
Change of Attitude
Arteta has previously outlined the importance of having his players on the same page as he looks to rebuild an Arsenal side that suffered its worst league finish in 25 years. A reinvigorated Maitland-Niles is exactly the type of player he desires.
Someone who has shown a change in attitude coupled with a willingness to improve both on and off the field, the Arsenal youngster is a key piece of Arteta’s puzzle and should be persuaded to stay at all costs.
Zac CampbellFollow @zprcampbell