Versatile midfielder-cum-right-back Ainsley Maitland-Niles joined Lyon in the summer of 2023 on a free transfer following the expiration of his contract at Arsenal. The Londoner had been with the Gunners for the best part of two decades since joining them as a schoolboy, but had never really established himself as a first team regular.
Finally, just shy of his twenty-sixth birthday, and following several loan moves, he has broken his ties with his childhood club and made a permanent switch in search of regular football.
Maitland-Niles came through the youth ranks at Arsenal and made his debut in a Champions League tie against Galatasaray in 2014, aged just seventeen. However, it wasn’t until the following season, on loan at Ipswich Town, that he really made his breakthrough, making 30 appearances in the Championship.
Another year on the fringes at Arsenal was to follow in 2016-17 but the season ended on a high when he was part of the England squad that won the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea. He was a late substitute in the 1-0 win over Venezuela in the final in Suwon.
Following on from that success, 2017-18 saw him fully integrated into the Arsenal first team squad in what was manager Arsene Wenger’s final season in charge of the club. He made 28 appearances across all competitions and backed that up under Unai Emery, featuring thirty or more times in each of the following two campaigns. Those three seasons represent the high water mark of his time in north London and culminated with him playing the full ninety minutes in the 2020 FA Cup final as Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-1 at Wembley.
By the start of the 2020-21 season, just as Maitland-Niles found himself beginning to fall out of favour under new manager Mikel Arteta, he earned a call-up to the full England national team and was awarded all five of his international caps during that Autumn.
Despite this recognition from national team boss Gareth Southgate, Maitland-Niles was was loaned out to fellow Premier League club West Bromwich Albion in February 2021. He made twelve appearances for the Baggies, but was unable to help keep them in the top division, as they finished nineteenth.
Another half season on the fringes at Arsenal followed, during which he made what were to be his final appearances for the club, before a loan move to AS Roma in Italy’s Serie A, where he was again used sparingly by manager José Mourinho and was an unused substitute as Roma won the UEFA Europa Conference League final 1-0 against Feyenoord.
2022-23 was the final year of Maitland-Niles’ contract at Arsenal and he spent the entirety of it on loan at Southampton, finishing up with a second relegation on his CV as the Saints finished bottom of the Premier League. It was apparent that he was no longer part of Arteta’s future plans at Arsenal and he wasn’t offered a new contract at the end of the season.
Having been shunted around many different positions during his career to date, Maitland-Niles arrived at Lyon with a view to holding down a place in defensive midfield. He has plenty of experience in that role, but is also at home as a right-back or even as a wing-back on either flank. Hopefully he’ll prove to be a useful asset to Lyon over the next few years.