Today, Mikel sat for his press conference before Arsenal’s FA Cup semifinal against Manchester City on Saturday. He was asked about Ceballos, Lacazette, Aubameyang, Maitland-Niles, Man City, fans coming back and tons more. Check out the full transcript here.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles has had a year that splits people’s opinions around him right down the middle. He had a great run of games and performances from the right back position, but has reportedly been open about his dislike for playing in that spot. This report was coupled with reports of some issues off the field surrounding team meetings, attitude and effort issues in training, and some refusal to budge on his stance. Come selection time, Arteta completely dropped Maitland-Niles opting to consider Sokratis as a right back instead.
Recently, a report from Maitland-Niles himself denied that this stance was the case and that he was extremely willing to play wherever Arteta asked him to, in whatever capacity was asked of him. It was an interesting 180 degree swing from what was being reported and the story Arteta’s selections told. Was the initial report wrong? If so, why hadn’t he been selected in the previous months?
Earlier this week, The Athletic’s David Ornstein wrote an exclusive report stating that Ainsley Maitland-Niles had made up his mind to move on from his time at Arsenal in search of greener pastures. He stated that, “the writing is on the wall for his career at Arsenal and in order to achieve regular first-team game time, he must leave the Emirates Stadium.”
It sparked a lot of attention, naturally, as Arsenal are in desperate search of methods for raising funds and retaining quality. Yet today, Arteta denied knowing anything about this ‘fact’ and the report itself. “I don’t disclose those reports, first of all because I don’t read them so I don’t know about them. I speak to the players about how they are feeling and how we can help them. If they are having difficulties again I speak to them and make them easier for them.”
Part of Ornstein’s article suggested that Maitland-Niles himself felt there wasn’t a “sense of trust” from Mikel and it was causing the manager look to others with his decisions. Yet, again, Mikel’s words send a resoundingly different message. “He’s a player who can play in many different positions,” says Mikel. “We have discussed the things in my opinion that he can improve or adapt to his game because he has incredible quality. He has every quality that you need to be a football player to play the highest level and he just needs to do it in a little bit more of a consistent way, but he is someone who can adapt to any position as well.”
It’s appears to be another transparent statement from Mikel that openly acknowledges Maitland-Niles need for higher consistency and improvement in a few areas, but doesn’t suggest Mikel dislikes the qualities Maitland-Niles possesses. So where is the disconnect?
It may be too far to suggest that the disconnect comes with the differing views each party has of the situation. Arteta clearly has the view that Maitland-Niles offers quality but needs to work on certain aspects. If reports are true, this may differ from Maitland-Niles viewing himself as a player ready for consistent first team time, with out without the improvements Arteta has in mind.
In the end, Maitland-Niles may have played a role in sealing his own Arsenal fate as the club looks for reasons to sell players that have value, but that might not be something he is opposed to. If Arsenal can get some good minutes from him during the end of the season, find a good home for him in the summer, and make some good cash to invest, it will be a healthy, professional end to his time at Arsenal and proof that situations with players leaving don’t have to turn bitter. After all, not everything works out in football. If this is the case, I wish him well in the next stage of his career.