Last chances? Maitland-Niles and Joe Willock must prove their worth on loan

Now Or Never For Niles and Willock by Dan Smith

It’s a massive weekend in the careers of Maitland Niles and Joe Willock who both have a final chance to prove they belong in Arsenal’s first team. Both deserve credit for stepping out of their comfort zone and choosing to join sides near the bottom of the League.

Normally the club has a policy of authorising loan deals as part of a youngsters development. This though is different; the two academy graduates have played combined over 200 games for the Gunners first team and yet the jury remains out if they can handle this level.

I have said before, if you have been at a club our size from a child and got this far, then enough qualified people believe you’re talented, so that’s not in question.

What you then need to prove is that you have the mentality to play every week for a club our size, and can handle the scrutiny that comes with it. Do you have the personality to deal with the expectation of having to win every week, and if not, fans and pundits dissecting your performance?

That’s what separates a talent from being at a ‘top six’ side or a midtable one.

I believe the two players both still play like they don’t truly believe they are good enough to be wearing the shirt, like a fan who’s won a competition. Where a Saka or Smith Rowe demands the ball and believes they can be the difference, Willock plays it safe, like he’s scared to do something wrong.

Now till the end of the season they face pressure of a different kind. At Newcastle and West Brom they are suddenly a big fish in a small pond. I do question the choice of clubs chosen for the pair. Neither exactly play the brand of football that Arteta insists he wants us to play.

Willock won’t exactly be walking into the most confident of dressing rooms, while Maitland Niles might be prepared to have a relegation on his CV. Despite the Baggies being 19th in the table, it’s believed the Hawthorns was Nile’s preferred choice.

Reports say he could have gone to Southampton or Leicester, but like Arsenal and England, they view his best position as a full back. The 23-year-old has always maintained he wants to play as a midfielder and has supposedly been given assurance from Sam Allardyce that will be the case in the Midlands.

LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 03: (L) Emile Smith Rowe celebrates scoring the 4th Arsenal goal with (R) Ainsley Maitland-Niles during the UEFA Europa League Group B stage match between Arsenal FC and Rapid Wien at Emirates Stadium on December 03, 2020 in London. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

I admire his bravery because in many ways he’s putting his Arsenal career on the line.

If he can’t be the midfielder he clearly thinks he is at West Brom, then he won’t be able to come back to North London complaining if he’s asked to fill in at left or right back.

I think he has made a mistake. He was more likely to go to the Euros as a makeshift full back for Arsenal, Saints or Leicester compared to losing every week in the bottom three. I do credit anyone though who backs their own ability.

These decisions from Edu and our manager are clearly to give the duo playing time. There is no inkling that either player’s future is in jeopardy at the Emirates, hence zero option or obligation to buy is part of any of these loans.

Yet it’s common sense to suggest that their parent clubs (and gooners) will be keeping an eye on their progress.

If they don’t make an impact at two of the worst teams in the division then they will return to us even lower down the pecking order.

I gave my opinion of Maitland Niles in the summer. I felt at a time we are desperate for money, 16-20 million was too good to turn down for a makeshift fullback. He was an asset you could sell without harming the first team.

There’s a reader I debated with in September who called me negative for calling the player a makeshift full back, even though he’s always been and has been since a …. makeshift full back. This reader said he was better than Kante. You don’t loan Kante to West Brom. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want him to prove me wrong, and really be that good.

When Arsenal turned down Wolves’ offer, I’m sure they didn’t think that 4 months later they be loaning him out, and in truth probably wish they took the money (not sure they would currently get more than that valuation?).

Like anything though I love to be proven wrong.

That’s what Maitland Niles and Willock have, an opportunity. I wish them all the very best and will be keeping an eye on Newcastle and West Brom fixtures more than I would have in the past.
Willock begins his Toon Army adventure on Saturday lunchtime at home to Southampton, while Nile’s West Brom are at Spurs on Sunday.

Good luck to both.

Be Kind In The Comments


Tags maitland-niles Willock


  1. If we can get good money from their sale this summer, it will nice.

    I want our squad to be filled with talents like Saka in every position. That is the only way we can become a top team again.

    More clear outs of the below average and average players and 3 – 5 good players should be added.

    Out – Bellerin, Torreira, Willian, Runarsson, Niles, Chambers, Luiz, Nelson, Elneny, Willock, Nketiah, Xhaka.

    How possible would it be for this 12 average players to be shipped out for some reasonable amount of money?

    In – Buendia, Bissouma, Left back, Right back, GK, Winger.

  2. I think AMN has done well recently. He was one of the stars of our FA cup win. Under Arteta, he has had only one chance to play in central midfield. He has arguably been better than Bellerin at RB and quite a capable makeshift at left back. I am keen to see how good he can be if played week in week out.

  3. Yes, AMN definitely not given a proper chance. Full back was never a natural position for him. He should have been out there in the middle fighting for scraps and trying to feed the likes of EMS snd Saka. He had already established himself as a useful utility midfielder under Wegner before his broken leg. As much as I want Arteta to succeed, his player management skills can often be frustrating.

  4. I think both of em need more playing time to sort out their best position.As emery once said i honestly believe that willock can easily be a ramsey,he has energy to be that box to box midfielder.
    Niles strength is his pace,to reach his potential i think he needs help to work on his decision making,with More consistent minutes he will hopefully be a great player.

    Also the youngsters need a good leader,a leader who will help them learn through mistakes and who will also make them keep their feet on the ground no matter how great their achievements are.

    1. @Shakir – I didn’t see anywhere where you wrote something about their football prowess and skills. All I keep hearing is ‘energy’ … What does that even mean?
      Berbatov didn’t have any ‘energy’ but he was sought after by good teams. Do you know why – He had skills and a football brain. So having ‘energy’ without brains seems like a useless thing to have in football.
      Just my two cents

  5. There is only one English regular starter Saka. Chambers is a token quota player. Holding has struggled for starts. Nelson and Nketia are fringe players kept out of the team by 200 million quids worth of French imports. Now Niles and Willock are out on loan. Giving way to Real Madrid rejects Ceballos and Odegaard while 32 year old Chelsea reject Willian has an expensive long term contract. Arsenal owner is American the manager is Spanish most of the players are foreign imports. The players are there for the money nothing else. Certainly not for the fans. Foreigners playing each other in empty English stadiums is rather fitting.

    1. From what you just wrote, can I deduce that you would prefer an All-English team? Or rather, an All-English league?

      If I’m not mistaken, there was an era when the league was all english and I’m not sure you saw good and expansive football as you see now. So, maybe bringing those ‘useless imports’ wasn’t such a bad idea.

      What I was expecting to hear from you is a reason why those so-called english talents should play ahead of the ‘useless imports’. After all, Willock and AMN have been given over 200 chances to show they are better and still yet, the jury is out on them. That should tell you something.

      Just so you know, it didn’t take Saka over 50 apps to win football fans over. Maybe you need to start admitting that those english talents are usually overhyped. The sooner you admit that, the better.

  6. Can I ask peeps out of interest
    AMN rarely has played in midfiedl so why are some convinced he’s better there then full back ?

      1. Just think Weng master of identifying position for players
        Changed Henry – striker
        Toure – cb
        Lauren – rb
        LUngberg – midfield

        Wouldn’t he of played him as a winger of he was that good in training?
        E.g. Fabrega s was a cm , at 17 was trusted to play as a cm

    1. God bless you Dan, I have askedthis question severally, just because of a game against utd 3 or 4 season ago, fans rate him above Xhaka and the rest of our mf who have played in the mf all their lives. I appreciate him as a winger or wing back, however I hope he prove me wrong and come as good as expected by his fans so we have another option to replace ceballos when his loan ends, as for Willock, he is Ramsey kind of player, I didn’t really like Ramsey pattern, I may never regard Willock. I hope we let Nketia go and buy young CF in the summer. A young CF and CAM to compete with ESR should be the priority in the summer and lb cover

  7. The few times Niles has played in CM he has performed well.

    I remember once against Man. U, he played in CM and had a good game with some driving runs from midfield to attack.

    It is unfortunate for him that he can’t displace slow Xhaka.

  8. Niles had an outstanding season under Emery. That season deputising for the injured Bellerin Niles helped Arsenal to the EL final and to a point off CL in the league. How is he now having to go prove himself? How is such a ‘novice’ a current English international. Can’t help but think this is all to do with the vast salaries being paid foreigners and the vast losses suffered when losing players like Ozil Ramsey Sanchez Socritis and Mustafi for free.

    1. He didn’t have an outstanding season, more like above average performance. Remember last 10 game of the season? His unnecessary red card against Leicester or Everton denied us top 4

  9. I believe every club needs a utility player like AMN even though I know from what I’ve seen of his game play that he’d have great time in midfield. He knows how to hold and control the ball like Partey and if he was given a consistent run there, he could have turned out to be our own Partey. I’m not putting my hopes yup for willock on the otherhand. He’ll be an average footballer at best. I know AMN will come good wherever he ends up. Watch out.

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