Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ loan spell at West Brom will end next week, and the 23 year old will return to Arsenal with his future uncertain.
Part of the reason for his January departure was in order to play more regularly in midfield, an opportunity he was not granted often, if at all, by Mikel Arteta.
The Gunners boss preferred him in defensive positions, and after working with him for a few months, Baggies boss Sam Allardyce has urged Maitland-Niles not to let opportunities at Arsenal pass him by because of a reluctance to play where he’s needed.
“Ainsley’s given us everything he has got,” said Allardyce.
“He came to join the fight – you have to admire that – he knew my idea was to play him where he wanted to play and where he’s always wanted to play – in midfield.
“Arsenal have got many talented midfield players. I can see why it’s been difficult for him. It’s very competitive in there.
“That’s why he’s been played more as a full-back. If I were him, I’d play wherever the manager picked me, and I’d never turn it down because if you are able to play in a number of positions, then you are going to get more games than if you had one position and one position only.
“Perhaps you don’t want to be tagged as a utility player but sometimes those people are played more often than those who are stubborn and say, ‘I want to play in that position and nowhere else.'”
What’s next for Maitland-Niles seems unclear, although there could well be an opportunity next season.
He has all the attributes to be a modern full-back, and with Hector Bellerin apparently on the way out, Cedric now fourth choice in that position, and Calum Chambers with just a year left on his contract, maybe there’s a chance for him to stake a claim … if he wants it.
It’s also a bit disconcerting that Allardyce has made this much sense, but he does have a good point.
Let’s see what happens this summer.