As recently as six months ago, Ainsley Maitland-Niles lined up for Arsenal in an FA Cup final at left-wing back. Today, he is being heavily linked with a loan move away from the Emirates Stadium in search of regular football.
How has it come to this?
He made his Premier League debut at the age of just 17 back in December 2014 under Arsene Wenger, and to date, the 23-year-old has made 121 appearances for the first-team.
More often than not, Maitland-Niles has been deployed as either a full-back or wing-back, despite the player himself having insisted throughout his career that his strongest position is in midfield. Opportunities to play there in the red and white of the Gunners have been few and far between, and that's likely to be one of the main reasons he has grown frustrated by life in north London.
Under Mikel Arteta, prior to this positive run of form, the team had struggled to find the right midfield balance. But even during those difficult times, the Spaniard was unwilling to give the England international his shot and it feels now as though a move away for the player would be the best solution for all parties.
Kieran Tierney's recent injury troubles have led to the boss having to make changes at left-back, and when Sead Kolasinac left for Schalke in January, you could have been forgiven for thinking Maitland-Niles would be given a run in the side. However, after a sub-standard performance vs Crystal Palace, Cedric Soares has since been tasked with replacing the former Celtic man, and Maitland-Niles hasn't had a look in.
During the summer transfer window, he was the subject of a £15m bid from Wolverhampton Wanderers, but the offer was rejected with reports suggesting the Gunners were looking for something closer to £20m (as per Sky Sports).
Although, it may seem as though Arsenal's only reason for rejecting the offer was that their Premier League rivals had failed to meet the player's valuation, I'd argue Maitland-Niles has turned out to be collateral damage in the team's tactical evolution under Arteta.
As a full-back in a back four, it could certainly be argued that the player hasn't been as effective as when he has played as a wing-back, and so the decision taken by the coach to add in another midfielder and stray away from the system that saw Arsenal win a record 14th FA Cup has impacted Maitland-Niles directly.
In the past, there have been questions around the player's attitude but in his defence, Arteta has never given us any indication he has been unhappy with his conduct or application. Perhaps at the time Arsenal were approached by Wolves, the Gunners boss genuinely felt Maitland-Niles would prove to be an asset to the side.
But due to the change of direction tactically, the player has found himself to be surplus to requirements at the Emirates. One thing is for sure, there is no shortage of interest in the young man - Premier League clubs with Leicester, Southampton, West Brom and Newcastle are all being linked with a loan move for Maitland-Niles.
In order to fulfil his undoubted potential and be afforded the opportunity to play in his preferred position, it seems he'll need to move on. As mentioned, Maitland-Niles feels like the unfortunate victim of a tactical adjustment that most fans would agree simply needed to happen.
Source : 90min