Southampton will reportedly consider a move for Arsenal midfielder Ainsley Maitland-Niles this summer and if he were to join Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side, he could prove to be the man to replace James Ward-Prowse.
According to The Telegraph, the 23-year-old England international will leave the Gunners this summer due to a lack of first-team opportunities under Mikel Arteta, with Southampton, Wolves and Leicester City all expected to be interested in him ahead of next season.
Maitland-Niles was linked with a loan move to the Saints in the winter transfer window but opted to join West Brom instead, as he sees himself as a midfielder rather than a full-back, and he would have been expected to provide cover for Kyle Walker-Peters and Ryan Bertrand at full-back in Hasenhuttl’s side had he joined the South Coast club.
The Arsenal academy graduate has been a regular in Sam Allardyce’s side since then, making eight appearances in the top-flight, and impressed in the Baggies’ shock 5-2 win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last weekend.
If he were to join Southampton, then he would no doubt want to feature as a midfielder in Hasenhuttl’s side and due to him being more of a box-to-box player, he could prove to be the long-term replacement for Saints captain Ward-Prowse.
The 26-year-old is enjoying his best-ever Premier League season with Southampton, contributing seven goals and five assists in 30 top-flight appearances, averaging an excellent 7.10 rating for his performances.
He looks to be nailed on for a spot in Gareth Southgate’s England squad for the European Championships this summer as a result, and if he can impress there, then it would not be a surprise if we saw a lot of interest in the £25.2m-rated midfielder this summer, with Spurs having already been tipped as a potential destination for Ward-Prowse by Glen Hoddle.
Therefore, as painful as it might be for Southampton fans and Hasenhuttl to admit, Ward-Prowse looks to be destined for bigger things, and they should look to bring in someone who could possibly replace him with the Saints this summer.
Maitland-Niles would bring experience having featured on multiple occasions for Arsenal in the Europa League and is still young so could be moulded into a promising midfielder by Hasenhuttl if he were to become a first-team regular with the South Coast club.
Arteta was full of praise for the Englishman earlier in the season, saying:
“I think he’s made – in this year – big, big progress and he’s in a much better place than what he was a year ago and he needs to keep doing what he’s doing.”
In a highlight reel posted to Instagram (via HITC), Ainsley Maitland-Niles drew praise from some of his former teammates, including current Everton winger Alex Iwobi, who lauded his old Gunners counterpart “a joy to watch.”
Ward-Prowse easily takes that accolade amongst this Saints squad, that’s for sure.
Whilst he hasn’t been able to contribute goals or assists on a consistent basis in his career thus far, he has shown in his performances as a right-back that he can get forward well and be dangerous in the final third, so could work well alongside either more conservative options such as Oriol Romeu or Ibrahima Diallo in the Saints midfield.
Therefore, Southampton should act on their reported interest in the 23-year-old Arsenal man this summer, as if Ward-Prowse does end up leaving the club, then Maitland-Niles could prove to be a contender to replace him in Hasenhuttl’s side.