In what seemed like a situation that was heading in a distinct direction, it now feels a bit blurry. Oddly enough, with three right backs, there is only one player that seems to be a shoo-in for the team this year and it's Cedric Soares.
With reports that Maitland-Niles was being bid for by Wolverhampton Wolves, it seemed like the decision had been made. Maitland-Niles would be cashed in on, and sacrificed for the rebuild, while Hector Bellerin would maintain his starting spot in the squad and be the go-to right back. In the last 24-48 hours the picture seems to have shifted and has become far from clear.
Yesterday, Arsenal played their opening preseason friendly versus MK Dons which featured Maitland-Niles as the left wingback in front of Kieran Tierney and Cedric Soares as the right wingback in front of debutant William Saliba. Now, obviously it is important not to race to too many conclusions based on a friendly in which the side was likely selected based on who was fit and available, more than top talent and season intents.
But the situation has become unclear. Not only was Maitland-Niles being bid for, but reports were emerging that Hector Bellerin was being offered to Paris Saint Germain at the same time. Interesting...
To add to the mix, this morning it was announced by David Ornstein on Twitter that Arenal had turned down Wolverhampton's bid. Granted that bid was for less than £20m, a fee that already seemed way lower than Maitland-Niles value, which makes sense to reject.
It makes for an intriguing twist to the tale really, and it paints a picture that the right back spot within this team may be much more open than one would have thought. Could Arsenal be having a change of heart over Maitland-Niles' future at the club given his versatility? Does Arteta find Bellerin and Maitland-Niles equally valuable and therefore is willing to part with whichever fetches him the higher fee? Could we see both Bellerin and Maitland-Niles sold this window?
The problem with the third option is that leaves the club with just Cedric Soares to cover the right back and right wingback duties unless the rumblings of a Max Aarons swoop comes to fruition or Arteta has someone else in mind.
It's certainly too early to make a call and I am left with the feeling that there are many more twists in the tale to come, but with Soares acquitting himself quite well in the right back role offering Arsenal a two-way player with some pace, two-footed abilities, and decent defending, while Maitland-Niles demonstrated how versatile he can be with a good game from the left wingback role, I would say the position is potentially more open than ever before.
Maitland-Niles is proving to be incredibly versatile and a bit of a firefighter for Arsenal as he is deployed in strategic areas to assist in shutting down opposition's dangerous players. Traore and Mahrez late in the season, while offering a good option on the right.
Bellerin is one of the many regulars still returning from holiday and getting up to speed which means it isn't surprising he didn't feature. But even if he does play well, the co-captain's future at Arsenal may not be entirely within his control if PSG do take the bait and uncinch the purse strings
Bellerin offers a player that is a more natural fit as a true right back within a 4-back system while also offering an option as the right wingback. He certainly isn't as versatile as Maitland-Niles, but as he returns to health and confidence in his knee returns, we can see a player willing to pick up his head, see space, and carry the ball into it with pace. You won't need me to remind you that Bellerin's ball carrying through the midfield led to two Pepe assists and Aubameyang goals in the semifinals and finals of the FA Cup.
For me to be content to see Arsenal part ways with either Maitland-Niles or Bellerin, the fee would have to be in the £30-40m range. Many have called for similar pricing as ex-Arsenal, now Everton player Alex Iwobi. It's a notion and comparison I completely understand. However, many would agree that Everton likely overpaid for Iwobi's services by £5-10m and with the pandemic's effects on the market, that £30m amount starts to feel about right, although I understand the value both offer.
With interest from Premier League teams and Bundesliga teams circling Maitland-Niles, Arsenal shopping Bellerin around to clubs with money, and Soares playing well when given the chance I would say "it's up for grabs now".