Mikel Arteta has defended the decision to loan Ainsley Maitland-Niles early in the January transfer window, despite Arsenal’s current midfield issues.
Arsenal loaned Ainsley Maitland-Niles to AS Roma early on the January transfer window, which was a bold move at that precise moment in time given the lack of alternatives available.
Mohamed Elneny and Thomas Partey are both at the Africa Cup of Nations, whilst Granit Xhaka tested positive for Covid-19 last week.
Without Maitland-Niles, that left Albert Sambi Lokonga as the club’s only senior central midfielder available.
As a result, teenager Charlie Patino had to fill in against Nottingham Forest last weekend alongside Lokonga, who isn’t exactly an experienced Arsenal player himself. Arsenal went on to lose the match.
Mikel Arteta argues they had to look at the big picture with the Maitland-Niles loan.
“We talked about all the possibilities,” Arteta said. “When you are finalising a deal there are certain things that you cannot miss out if you want to complete that deal.
“Again, I said the interest of the player was that clear after what happened in the summer that we felt it was the right thing to do and it was a matter of over a day or two that we tried to do that.
“But as well you have to have the player in the right mindset to compete, knowing that he’s going to leave in the next day.
“I don’t think that we can make a decision that is going to have an impact in the next six, 18 months, just for a day or two, I don’t think it’s very logical.”
It’s not exactly an unreasonable point. As disappointing as it is to exit the FA Cup so early on, there are no guarantees a distracted Maitland-Niles appearance would have changed that.
Even if it did, progressing through that one round of cup competition could have put the Roma loan deal at risk, which would have had a big impact on the player’s future.
Perhaps the more valid criticism of Arsenal is that they didn’t get anyone in to replace Maitland-Niles before he left.
There have been strong links to Juventus’ Arthur Melo over the last day or so, and if that deal had been done on January 1st then the next week of games against Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur wouldn’t be quite so worrying.
As it is, Arsenal will be sweating on Xhaka’s availability, readying Patino for a start against Liverpool, or preparing to play someone else out of position. That’s the problem.