In recent weeks, the exclusion of Ainsley Maitland-Niles from Arsenal’s starting XI has raised eyebrows. Early on in Arteta’s reign, it had seemed that Maitland-Niles was a favourite of his. The Hale End graduate had started in each of Arteta’s first five Premier League games at the helm. Maitland-Niles garnered much acclaim for his rich vein of form, particularly for his role in the 2-0 defeat of Manchester United. In spite of this, he has not appeared in the last 4 Premier League outings for the Gunners. As a result of this and Hector Bellerin’s struggles returning from injury, his absence has sparked much debate.
A MAN OUT OF POSITION
Arteta’s decision is not a difficult one to explain. For some time now, it has been apparent that Maitland-Niles detests filling the right-back slot. In an interview with Ben Grounds of Sky Sports, the Hale End graduate insists that he is a “midfielder by trade” and that right-back is “not where [he] would choose to put [himself] in the team.” Whilst this sentiment had appeared to fade in the infancy of Arteta’s tenure, it appears to have arisen recently.
In a recent episode of The Ornstein and Chapman Podcast, the reliable reporter David Ornstein suggested that Maitland-Niles had “expressed a desire or a preference not to be playing at right-back and that he favours a central midfield position.” Ornstein further stated that “Mikel Arteta isn’t particularly receptive to players indicating where they want to play. They will play where they’re told to play, and for the good of the team.”
ARTETA ASSERTING HIS AUTHORITY
From the word go at Arsenal, Mikel Arteta has made a concerted effort to alter the mindset of his players. In his opening press conference, Arteta spoke of his desire to have “everybody at the club with the same mindset.” He elaborated on this point, insisting that “If you don’t have the right culture, during difficult moments the trees are going to shake.”
With a focus on the Maitland-Niles saga, Arteta’s belief in ruthlessness and consistency has shone through. He has spoken of how players fulfilling the club’s culture is vital in creating a “winning mentality.”Arteta’s insistence on starting Hector Bellerin is indicative of this. Whilst Maitland-Niles performances were impressive, Bellerin’s professionalism dwarfs that of the 22-year-0ld. Cedric Soares will soon come into the reckoning as he returns from injury, which will only push Maitland-Niles further away from the starting side.
ARTETA’S APPROACH REAPING REWARDS
Whilst Maitland-Niles’ omission has attracted the most attention, he has not been the only squad member to bear the brunt of Arteta’s ire.
Dani Ceballos had a question mark looming over his head during the initial stages of Arteta’s reign. He struggled to reintegrate into the squad and seemed on the verge of cutting his loan move short. However, since the winter break in Dubai, Ceballos has been the metronome of the Arsenal side. He has usurped Lucas Torreira in the pecking order, providing newfound dynamism to Arsenal’s midfield. A key reason for Arteta including Ceballos in his XI can be attributed to him “completely [changing] his behaviour and [training] like an animal.”
Matteo Guendouzi is another that has frustrated Arteta on the training ground. Sam Dean of the Telegraph reported that Arteta was “unimpressed with Guendouzi’s attitude & body language in Dubai, leading to their angry exchange, with Guendouzi known to be among the more boisterous members of the Arsenal squad.” These claims were corroborated by The Athletic’s David Ornstein, who also reported that “Guendouzi is said to have responded highly impressively.” Much like Ceballos, Guendouzi has been reintegrated to the side following his incident in Dubai, impressing in the 2-0 win against Portsmouth in the FA Cup.
A LOOK TO THE FUTURE
In the past few months, we have seen Arteta’s Arsenal both on and off-field, with his implementation of high octane, possession-oriented football, alongside his iron-fisted rule. With the summer transfer window just a few months away, we will see a further transformation of the side. The likes of Maitland-Niles are likely to be on the scrapheap in order to fund a summer overhaul. The Arteta revolution is underway and that is something to be very excited for.