Despite not being involved in the Arsenal squad that won on Monday, Ainsley Maitland-Niles seemed to be at the centre of one of the main talking points amongst Gunners fans on social media in the hours following their victory over Newcastle.
The 23-year-old’s absence from the squad was intriguing to many. And Mikel Arteta hinted after the game that he has not been good enough of late.
“He needs to compete for his place like everybody else,” he said, as reported by Football London. “There’s been a lot of players who have been left out of the squad and had less minutes.
“Ainsley has played some minutes in the league, a lot of minutes in the Europa, the FA Cup, semi-finals and finals for us. It’s about him, his performances and how much he wants to be in the team.”
The comments prompted some Arsenal fans to speculate that Maitland-Niles’s days at the Emirates could be numbered. As noted by the Guardian, he has been linked with the exit in the past over a lack of game-time.
In fairness to Arteta, Maitland-Niles has probably not stepped up in the same way the likes of Kieran Tierney and Emile Smith Rowe have done lately.
And given how impressive he was at the end of last season, it may prove a masterstroke to lay the challenge down to the academy graduate.
However, Maitland-Niles would surely be forgiven for having a clear problem with Arteta’s comments.
Arteta does not appear to have been consistent when it comes to dropping players this season. Hector Bellerin has started 16 Premier League games this term despite really struggling at times.
And of course, Arteta’s faith in Willian has baffled many. The 32-year-old has been a hugely disappointing signing for the Gunners.
He is yet to score in any competition. And since providing two assists on the opening day, he has gone on to set up just one further goal.
And yet, Arteta has only recently taken him out of the starting lineup. Even then, the former Chelsea man has been a regular fixture on the bench. He came on against both West Brom and Newcastle.
Maitland-Niles – who earns £35,000-a-week, according to Spotrac – seems the perfect player to have on the bench. He can play in a variety of positions. And unlike Willian, he has produced a couple of superb displays in the last couple of months.
In isolation, it would be too difficult to criticise Arteta’s stance on Maitland-Niles – even if it seemed to some to be a little harsh.
However, selecting Willian on the bench ahead of him surely undermines the point he is trying to get across to the youngster.