All Guns Blazing: Why Ainsley Maitland-Niles could make the cut at Arsenal
- Credit: EMPICS Sport
In our weekly Arsenal fan column, youth blogger Jeorge Bird takes a look at Arsenal’s latest debutant.
Players from Arsenal’s Under-21 squad are often invited to train with the first team to provide cover when players are injured, but Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been beckoned over to the senior training pitches on a regular basis in recent weeks.
The 17-year-old’s progression over the past two years has been meteoric, and after he was named among the substitutes for Arsenal’s Premier League game away at Stoke City on Saturday, Maitland-Niles made his debut in the 4-1 win at Galatasaray on Tuesday, replacing Aaron Ramsey at half-time.
Last season he caught the eye with some outstanding performances as a right winger but, this campaign, he has undergone a transformation into an all-action central midfielder.
With pace and flair in abundance, Maitland-Niles is capable of driving forward and scoring goals, while his tactical awareness and the defensive side of his game have noticeably improved since his positional change.
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It may have seemed too soon for Maitland-Niles to appear in the first team, especially in the Champions League, but his incredible work ethic and determination have been rewarded.
He has always had a tendency to be one step ahead of most of his contemporaries, having featured in the NextGen Series as a schoolboy before going on to star for the Under-21s in his first season as a scholar.
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Earlier this year he was rewarded for his progress with his first professional contract and Arsene Wenger has clearly been keeping tabs on his development.
If Arsenal’s injury problems persist then Maitland-Niles can look forward to further first-team training sessions, which will surely only accelerate his development even further.
He also has matters to attend to at youth level too, though. Maitland-Niles is a major part of the Arsenal Under-21s team that is attempting to work their way back into the top tier of football at that age level, while he is still eligible to feature in the UEFA Youth League and the FA Youth Cup, two competitions in which he delivered some scintillating performances last season.
It can be difficult to judge whether a player is capable of performing at first-team level, regardless of their displays for the youth teams. But Maitland-Niles appears to have the character to succeed and, if he doesn’t make it, it certainly won’t be for the lack of trying.
Follow me @jeorgebird