There’s been one name on the lips of Arsenal fans all summer. Just take a look at the replies to any of the club’s tweets and you’re bound to be inundated with floods of ‘#ANNOUNCEPARTEY’.
Thomas Partey is undoubtedly a fantastic player, but is it really a deal the Gunners should be pursuing? He’s 27 and the fee reported would surely consume all of their limited transfer budget. His attributes would benefit this Arsenal side, but what if there was a similar, younger player who wouldn’t cost the team a penny? Wouldn’t it be smarter to give him a shot and save the money for areas more desperately in need?
Ainsley Maitland-Niles is that man. Despite reportedly being on the verge of leaving the club, his performances of late have reminded everyone of how talented he is. If given the chance, he could become Arsenal’s own Partey.
It sounds like quite a reach, perhaps even a shameless attempt to save the club some cash, but there are many similarities between the two players. Both are defensively astute but can play a vital role in progressing their teams quickly up the pitch.
Offensively, the pair are also very similar. Maitland-Niles averages more key passes per game (0.6) than the Ghanaian (0.5). While the Atlético Madrid man has more of an eye for goal, scoring three last campaign, there’s no reason Maitland-Niles can’t develop a scoring knack in the centre of the park. Their passing metrics also match up, as both average a similar amount per 90, and the Ghanaian’s passing accuracy is only marginally higher than the Englishman’s, which again is something that should improve over time.
It’s Partey’s ability to dribble and beat a man to progress play quickly that excites Arsenal fans, but guess what; Maitland-Niles can do that too. He’s shown it time and time again this year, beating his man on the right-hand side and driving into space.
Arteta clearly recognises his ability to play centrally. In his recent man of the match performance against Liverpool, Maitland-Niles often tucked inside and became part of the midfield when Arsenal were in possession. If Arteta moves away from a 3-4-3 formation to accommodate an extra midfielder, Maitland-Niles has all the attributes to be that man. He’s not at Partey’s level yet, but given time to flourish he could easily hit the same heights.
As Arsenal’s new era rolls on, project youth has been highlighted as the direction the club wishes to pursue. If Arsenal are truly invested in developing young talents into superstars, selling one as he’s establishing himself in the first team is a bizarre approach. So what message does it send when one of Hale End’s own is being shown the exit as soon as an offer arrives?
His exploits in the latter stages of last season, as well as in the Community Shield, have shown how important he can be for this Arsenal side.
After constantly being asked to play in various different roles, it’s time he’s given the chance to nail down a spot in the team in a position he’s comfortable in. If it doesn’t work out, it’ll have cost nothing and Arsenal will be able to offload him next year.
To deny him of the chance now, when he’s shown he’s capable of it, will cast doubt to those following him through the academy. Does the club actually want to invest in them long-term or are they just assets that the club will flip as soon as they’re of sellable value?
If they have any sense, there’ll make the right call.