“If it works out it works out, if it doesn’t then kiss Arsenal goodbye.”
So said Ainsley Maitland-Niles yesterday in an interview with the Telegraph. The 23 year old is keen to sort out his future, so much so that barely two weeks after the dust has barely settled on a really difficult season at Arsenal (and in general), he’s gone public to push to find out what’s going to happen next.
On the one hand, you can understand it. He just wants to know if he’s in the manager’s plans for next season:
“I want some clarity and then hopefully I can get to work with whoever I need to get to work with. Whether that is finding a new club or whether that is carrying on with my training. I would like some kind of indication of what is happening.
“It would be easier to do it now than waiting for pre-season to kick in and everything is super busy and they can’t answer their phones because they are doing too much work. You know how the football world works.”
Who can blame him, or any player, for that? All the same, it’s interesting that he’s gone public in this fashion so early into the summer. The transfer window only opens today, the players that aren’t involved in the Euros or other international tournaments this summer are on holidays, and there’s barely been time for Mikel Arteta and his staff to make their assessments of the squad. Pre-season is still a few weeks away.
We all know there’s a hell of a lot to do at Arsenal during the 84 days between now and the close of the window on August 31st. With the greatest of respect, I don’t think Ainsley Maitland-Niles is close to the top of the list of things we have to sort out. Which isn’t to say his own concerns about his future aren’t valid, of course they are, but there are other things we need to do with much greater urgency.
I just wonder about the need for this kind of interview at this stage. To me it suggests pretty clearly that he sees his future elsewhere, and that’s fine. Players come and players go, and to be honest, I think Ainsley’s time at Arsenal has come to an end. It’s a shame because I really think he had the chance to become our right-back when he deputised for Hector Bellerin, but by all accounts he just didn’t fancy it.
Maybe his desire for clarity now is down to the lack of it previously. It wasn’t long ago he talked about wanting to be a winger, then he decided he wanted to play in central midfield, but when even Sam Allardyce is telling you to just play wherever you’re picked at a club like Arsenal, there’s something not quite right. Is it bad decision making? Bad advice? I don’t know, but it’s rare that any player gives an interview like this without already having made their mind up to leave.
The unfortunate thing from his point of view is that, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t think he’s a top priority. It’s not that I think we’d stand in his way, and perhaps he’s aware of imminent concrete interest from elsewhere that might have precipitated this interview, but in your own mind, how high up the list is sorting out his future for you? If we got money for him, it would obviously be useful, but given uncertainties about what’s going to happen at right-back and, indeed left-back, as we seek cover for Kieran Tierney, Maitland-Niles feels, to me at least, like a classic end-of-window/deadline day deal. Someone who can provide some squad depth/security while we sort other things out, and then the pathway for his departure becomes clearer.
What I would say is this though: in a summer when we’re going to struggle to generate the kind of transfer fees for certain players that we might like, doing so for Maitland-Niles is important. He is the archetypal example of how your Academy can become a source of revenue for a club. He grew up here, had a good loan spell at Ipswich, broke into the first team (for a while he kept Sead Kolasinac out of the team at left-back which says a lot about the former as much as AMN, but that’s a different story), and then began to play regularly.
He’s made 121 appearances for Arsenal, made the England squad on the back off his valuable contribution to a side which won the FA Cup last summer, and all of that – despite how he’s fallen out of favour a bit – still makes him a valuable asset. It’s one thing selling a player like The Jeff or Ismael Bennacer on the cheap, because they never really made that breakthrough, but he did. And he’s English too, which makes a difference, so when Edu is negotiating with whoever might want to buy him, he’s got to make sure that the fee is commensurate with that.
I realise you can’t compare certain deals, and much has changed in the market, but last summer Sheffield United paid Liverpool £23m for a young English striker who had made just four appearances for the club. It’s not the same, I get it, but we’ve sold poorly for too long, and if we can’t squeeze a good price out of a potential buyer for a player like Maitland-Niles, then there’s a need to think very hard about who is doing that work.
Right, let’s leave it there for this morning. Have a good one, any breaking news on Arseblog News as and when it happens.