Where does Ainsley Maitland-Niles go from here
Ainsley Maitland-Niles will be back at the Emirates Stadium this summer with mixed feelings. At one hand he will be disappointed of failing to avoid relegation with West Bromwich Albion.
But on the other hand, he will be pleased with his performances at central midfield at the Hawthorns. The Englishman was a regular fixture in the side of Sam Allardyce who improved in the second half of the season.
The Baggies looked a better side and that was partly due to the signings of Mbaye Diagne, Okay Yokuslu and Maitland-Niles himself.
The Arsenal loanee was employed as a number eight and has ended up making 13 appearances for them. That can be increased to 15 if he plays in West Brom’s last two fixtures before they switch the Premier League for the Championship.
The 23-year-old has already told that his preferred position is in midfield. But can he really say that with any certainty?
At the start of 2019, Maitland-Niles gave an interview stating that he wants to become Arsenal’s “first-choice winger.” “I’d like to be a winger,” Maitland-Niles told Sky Sports. “I feel comfortable there and I’ve been playing there this season.”
“I like to think of myself as a winger at 25 years old, starting every week for Arsenal, scoring and assisting goals.”
Those were the exact words of the Hale End graduate some two years ago.
So, a few years ago, he wanted to be a winger. At the current moment he wants to be a midfielder. What can Arsenal fans expect from Maitland Niles in a few years’ time?
A starting place between the posts!?
At the outset, The Englishman should be certain of his preferred position. But if he is not, it is better to widen his horizons by playing in various positions.
There are many merits to it. First, he gets to play for a big club like Arsenal week in and week out. Second, he can expand his knowledge of the game by being more flexible.
Some players take the maximum benefit of their versatility. On the flipside, Maitland-Niles seems to be doing the opposite.
Bukayo Saka is the perfect example of a player who gives his most wherever the manager plays him. He is 19, and the England international has already made 86 appearances for the club.
While the majority of those appearances have come on the right-wing, he has occasionally played as a left-back, left-winger and in every midfield position.
If Maitland-Niles wants to play as a defensive midfielder at Arsenal, he simply can’t, because Arsenal already boast one of the best number six in the game in Thomas Partey.
If he wants to play as a number 8, it is unlikely because his attacking output, when played as a midfielder, has been almost negligible.
In his 13 appearances, he has zero goals and assists for West Brom. He also has just 10 shots on target, out of which seven were from outside the box. Those shots were just hopeful punts at goals rather than having a real intent of scoring.
His current coach Sam Allardyce has already pointed out that Maitland-Niles’ weakness as a midfielder is his lack of goal involvements.
Arsenal would rather see a better player for that position in Joe Willock, who has shone at St. James Park.
And if Maitland-Niles wants to play as an attacking midfielder, he might have to move away from the Emirates Stadium, as Arsenal are looking to buy a more talented number 10, to further boost their options at that part of the pitch.
There are many in the industry who still believe Maitland-Niles can be an exceptional full-back, if he has the desire.
But judging by his comments, he will likely depart North London if the club don’t guarantee him minutes as a midfielder.
This is a player, who might look back in 10-15 years’ time, regretting his stubborn nature.