Arsenal fans don’t want Hector Bellerin to leave. By now, that goes without saying. He has been a dependable and loyal servant to the club and seems almost a fixture at the Emirates nine years after he arrived from Barcelona.
The Spaniard is still only 25, too, approaching his prime and with aspirations of more success.
Bellerin, though, appears to be contemplating his future, understandable given Arsenal’s struggles to maintain their position amongst the Premier League’s elite over the last couple of years.
There have been hugely promising signs under Mikel Arteta, but it might be that Bellerin sees his future elsewhere. Paris Saint-Germain are interested, and the allure of Champions League football, of domestic success and regular silverware, could prove tempting.
If Bellerin does leave at some point in the next month, Arteta will have some thinking to do. Would the sensible response be to sign a new right-back, to invest in a proven replacement? Or should he turn to a player already at the club?
Ainsley Maitland-Niles is certainly staking a strong claim to fill the potential gap. The 23-year-old ended last season strongly and put in a man of the match performance against Liverpool in the Community Shield playing as a right wing-back.
Still, though, there has been speculation over the player’s future. He was heavily linked with a move to Wolves only a few weeks ago, and it seemed back then that he was more likely to leave the club than stay.
But there has been a dramatic shift since then. Bellerin’s potential exit changes things, and Maitland-Niles has continued to prove himself a valuable member of the squad.
“We are reading a lot of news about our players which is not bad that other clubs want him but with Ainsley, he’s a player that I’ve said since I joined that I really like,” Arteta said last week.
“The best way to show that is that I have played him in the most important games of the season and he responded really well, so that’s where we are with the player.”
Maitland-Niles was particularly impressive against Liverpool at Wembley, bursting up and down the right flank and looking completely natural in the role. If Arteta intends to continue with a back five, that display will have perhaps done enough to convince him that he has a ready-made wing-back on his hands.
It is not just Arteta he has impressed either. Gareth Southgate picked Maitland-Niles for his England squad ahead of the upcoming Nations League games, news that the Arsenal man felt was “too good to be true”.