Ainsley Maitland-Niles has told The Athletic that he will leave Arsenal as a free agent in the summer.
The England international joined the club when he was six and burst through the ranks as a teenager to make his debut for Arsene Wenger in the Champions League when he was only 17.
Valued for his versatility, he played in both full-back positions and across midfield, making 132 appearances for the club since 2014.
His most successful spell for the club came in the months after Mikel Arteta took over as manager when he was deployed as a left wing-back. His performances helped the Gunners to FA Cup success in 2020 and earned him the first of five England caps.
That should have been the foundation on which to build himself a solid career at the Emirates but it hasn’t panned out that way. Unconvinced about playing in defence, he fell out of favour and then had his head turned by opportunities elsewhere. When moves to Wolves and Everton fell through in consecutive summers, it was clear he wasn’t happy.
He subsequently embarked on loan spells with West Bromwich Albion and AS Roma before joining Southampton for the current campaign back in September.
The Gunners did have the option to extend Maitland-Niles’ current deal by another 12 months but have opted against that. In so doing, Southampton’s option to buy the player has been cancelled, meaning the 25-year-old is in charge of his own destiny. He says he’d happily stay at St. Mary’s but it’s hard to imagine that if they end up getting relegated.
“It’s been a great journey but it has come to an end now (at Arsenal),” he told The Athletic.
“It’s time for a fresh start and to find a new home. I’m looking forward to that but, at the same time, my head’s not quite there yet and it’s all about what’s happening now with Southampton.
“I’m just fully focused on trying to help us stay up and stay positive on a day-to-day basis and win games. When the time gets closer towards the end of the season, I’ll have something else to think about. But right now, I’m just focused on football and the task at hand.
“Southampton is a great club to be at and progress and get some minutes under my belt. Of course, if they were to make an offer, I’ll be more than happy to stay.”