Does Ainsley Maitland-Niles still have an Arsenal future amid struggles?
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At the season's start, Ainsley Maitland-Niles was the talk of the town in North London. After two positive years as a rotational option, the Englishman would get his big chance due to an injury to Hector Bellerin.
Maitland-Niles would start each of the first six Premier League games for Arsenal Football Club, while playing large chunks of football in continental competition, too. for the most part, the 22-year-old looked pretty good, with his versatility probably his best selling point.
Then, Maitland-Niles would pick up a red card against Aston Villa. He'd miss the next ten games as that sending off would almost directly coincide with Hector Bellerin's return to the team. Again, Arsenal's #15 would come back into the fold as the right-back due to another predictable injury suffered by Bellerin, but recently, we haven't seen the budding starlet feature under Mikel Arteta. Arsenal fans were left perplexed. After all, this young man is amongst The Gunners' best academy prospects and let's be honest, this squad isn't jam-packed with talent.
The alarm bells were ringing louder than ever on Monday night, when centre-half Sokratis would take up his position in the FA Cup starting line-up against Portsmouth... at right-back. Maitland-Niles would be made to sit on the bench. After the game, Arteta's words on the situation felt damning but fair. He'd sent out a stern message directly to the player, who has simply been told to show to apply himself better in training and prove that he's worthy of a place at a prestigious football club like Arsenal.
There are widespread reports doing the rounds that Maitland-Niles has refused to play right-back, which would make sense given his bizarre absence from the team of late. Sure, he can admit that he's not naturally a defender, though you still have to remain professional in any line of work; regardless of enjoyment. If not, you can bet your bottom dollar said player will find himself club-less sooner than he thinks...
I do hold some sympathy. Maitland-Niles has undoubtedly been a victim of his own versatility. The Englishman may personally believe that his best position is in central midfield or even as a right-winger, but needs-must. The decision to shoot himself in the foot has monumentally backfired, at least in the short-term. In effect, he has gone from first-choice full-back to sixth-choice midfielder in a matter of weeks. Surely you'd prefer to be playing out of position than not at all?
Right now, Maitland-Niles' future at The Emirates does look bleak. Things can change quickly in football, though. An injury here or there, or the player knocking on the manager's door and admitting he was wrong would go an awfully long way. Putting the required effort when out on the training field would certainly help, too.
In the end, you'd hope that common sense will prevail. Maitland-Niles is more than capable of becoming Arsenal's Mr Versatile for the next decade-plus. That's not a bad thing by any stretch. Perseverance will eventually pay off in the long-run. Yes, it may mean some more football in an unfavourable right-back role but make no mistake about it, a chance to flourish in midfield will arrive. Plus, realistically, where else is he going to go? After all, home is often where the heart is...