Back in March, Ainsley Maitland-Niles received a challenge from Mikel Arteta to work hard on the training ground to win his place back and now he has, is the club going to sell him anyway?
Maitland-Niles initially struggled to get into the team under Mikel Arteta, making three one-minute substitute appearances in the six weeks before football stopped. Until then, his last start was against Sheffield United in mid-January, in the final game before Hector Bellerín’s injury return.
For many, it was a difficult situation to understand. Maitland-Niles was playing well enough over the festive period, so the decision to start picking Sokratis ahead of him seemed strange.
Then, Arteta answered a question on the subject from Football.London.
“Ainsley needs to put his head down, work hard and show me every day in training he wants it more than anybody else,” Arteta said. “That he wants to play for this club and fight for his place.”
The clear suggestion was that Arteta’s decision was based on application rather than ability. It’s a principle he’s already used to justify a couple of other exclusions since joining, with Matteo Guendouzi and Dani Ceballos dropping out over their attitude.
Since those comments, Maitland-Niles made it clear he wanted to leave the club but Mikel Arteta was prepared to put his money where his mouth was and gave him starts. The 23-year-old didn’t disappoint, culminating in a Man of the Match display against Liverpool in the Community Shield.
Speaking after the match he was clear that Arsenal were ‘in his heart’ and that he is an ‘Arsenal player until I’m told I’m not’ but the club still see him as being worth around £25m and if they can get it, they will, much to the annoyance of a large section of the fanbase.