Ainsley Maitland-Niles may have blown his final chance to impress manager Mikel Arteta as Arsenal advanced into the fourth round of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night.
The Gunners picked up their third win in a row across all competitions by defeating League One minnows AFC Wimbledon 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium.
Alexandre Lacazette bagged an early penalty before he turned provider for substitute Emile Smith Rowe late in the second half. Eddie Nketiah then wrapped things up with a deft backheel past the visiting goalkeeper.
But for all the positives on the night, it was another worrying sign that time may be running out for Maitland-Niles, particularly after the controversy towards the end of the summer transfer window.
As explained by the Evening Standard in their post-match ratings column, it wasn’t the first time that the Hale End graduate had failed to impress in what is his preferred position, central midfield.
‘Some nice touches but did not bring any real incision and was sloppy in possession. Another opportunity in his prefered position that rather passed him by,’ they wrote.
The 24-year-old requested to leave the north Londoners just before deadline day and even shared his frustrations in a social media post. After ‘clear the air’ talks with Arteta, the England international was given assurances over his playing time this season, as per Goal’s Charles Watts.
He started the match against Norwich in midfield, where he was said to have ‘struggled‘ despite their win, so it certainly seems like he hasn’t made the most of a rare second opportunity.
Against a side two divisions below, he failed to assert his dominance as a deep-lying playmaker in Arteta’s set-up. He won just two of eight duels (25%) and was dribbled past on two occasions, suggesting the opposition had his number frequently throughout the match.
Furthermore, Maitland-Niles lost possession 17 times – the second-most in the game – and didn’t produce anything going forward as he did not record a single dribble, key pass or shot, as per SofaScore.
With the January transfer window on the horizon, Arteta may want to think again should Everton return with interest in the versatile Gunners man.
It was yet another disappointing effort from the academy product, so he may well have messed up one of his final chances to play in his preferred role.