Arsenal’s youth has been questioned to a great extent in the last many years. The Gunners clearly have no home grown player who had a great impact on the team except Jack Wilshere who was recently signed by West Ham. While our North London neighbors have excelled in the same with 3-4 of the spuds players in the England line-up regularly in the past couple of years. However there is a silver lining in a dark cloud – Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
The young Englishman is a product of Arsenal’s renowned Hale End Academy, having joined the club as a six-year-old. Maitland-Niles signed his first professional contract in October of 2014, having broken into the U-21 side as a 16-year-old. Although, his preferred position is that of central midfielder, Arsene Wenger had utilised him as a full-back. The youngster has adapted his game well over time as he’s matured and benefited from a range of different experiences, namely a loan spell at Ipswich Town.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles has created 30 chances in 22 league appearances at Ipswich. pic.twitter.com/BQK4UK8eVP
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 23, 2015
Maitland-Niles’ ability to play in a range of different positions stems from the fact he has an abundance of attributes suited to different roles. His strengths include dribbling, tackling, crossing,pace, taking set pieces and defensive contribution. As for his weaknesses, he doesn’t seem to have many. His almost nedligible lack of consistency at times is the only weakness I could ponder upon.
Sead Kolasinac is out for eight to 10 weeks & Nacho Monreal hasn’t featured in pre-season, so it looks like Ainsley Maitland-Niles will get the nod against Manchester City. That shouldn’t worry anyone – Ainsley showed again in Stockholm that he has pace and calmness in abundance. pic.twitter.com/BmGOZwpUC7
— AFCPressWatch (@AFCPressWatch2) August 5, 2018
At 17-years and 102 days old, Maitland-Niles became the second youngest player to represent Arsenal in the Champions League, behind Wilshere after replacing Aaron Ramsey at half-time during their 3-0 group stage victory in Turkey. He has made over 30 international appearances for England at youth level, from U-17 level to U-20’s.
There have been some games in particular where Maitland-Niles has stood out. The Londoners faced Southampton in a 5th round of the FA Cup back in 2017, which they won 5-0. It was the first time the the Arsenal faithul got to see the midfielder’s potential. The England u-21 international also shined last season in a 2-1 loss to Manchester United. All of us Gooners remember Paul Pogba encouraging the young lad at the end. He was named man of the match, to which Thierry Henry commented:
“He has an idea of what he’s supposed to do with the ball. What I like with him is that he has legs, he’s a box-to-box player.
You know, you are against Matic and Pogba today and you didn’t shy away from any challenge, wanting the ball, covering, putting your body in, and it’s very good.”
— uthuman turna NO.7 (@wasswauthuman) April 30, 2018
Maitland-Niles’ impact on the game is impressive. We would always see him on the flank running up and down the field, delivering delicious crosses or defending when needed. Due to the fact that we already have natural midfielders, the young prospect would be seen more as a full-back next season.
Personally, I would play AMN ahead of Hector Bellerin anyday. Bellerin hasn’t improved since his initial couple of seasons and often plays in sub par crosses. Whereas, the young Gunner is still under development and is versatile. His calmness on the ball makes me favor him over Bellerin too.
Moreover, implementing academy players in the starting XI is a huge positive. The manager would be content with home grown talent and also the current academy players, they would always be hopeful of cracking into the team.
All in all, Maitland-Niles is one of the few talents we have come across after many years and hope that he develops into a better player with Emery’s guidance. One day, optimistically, the gunners would have 3-4 of their Academy players in the England starting line up.