Arsenal youngster Ainsley Maitland-Niles made his competitive debut back in 2014, but he made his first official start for the club in The Gunners 4-0 win over Nottingham Forest. Maitland-Niles has come a long way with the club and finally got his chance to shine in the EFL CUP, but will Wenger give the youngster another chance any time soon?
Maitland-Niles made his debut in December 2014, coming on for Aaron Ramsey in a Champions League group stage match against Galatasaray. At 17 years old, he looked raw in his ability, but clearly showed that he had the talent to shine in the future. A few days later Maitland-Niles also appeared for the Gunners in the Premier League, suggesting perhaps he would be another player to make the step up from the youth team to the first team that season. However he wasn’t seen again in an Arsenal shirt for the first team, until the recent victory in Nottingham.
Maitland-Niles also spent a year on loan at Championship side Ipswich Town and looked very impressive, proving to be a regular name on the teamsheet. He managed to get his first competitive goal at Ipswich, but then failed to get on the scoresheet for the club again that season in the league. Despite his promise, it seemed that Maitland-Niles may be slowly drifting towards that grey area where players are kept amongst the youth team ranks until their eventual release, however he stunned fans by being announced as a starter in the first EFL cup match of the campaign.
Although his inclusion was a surprise, it wasn’t quite as surprising as the fact that we saw him named as a the right back for the fixture, considering the England youth star is usually positioned as a winger. Maitland-Niles impressed massively during the match and was proven to be quick, precise and confident on the ball. Much like Hector Bellerin, who also started his career as a winger before being converted to a defender, Maitland-Niles showed that he is perfectly comfortably in the final third, as well in his defensive duties. In fact the 19 year old actually played some wonderful crosses into the box throughout the match. Maitland-Niles was replaced by his youth teammate Bielik in the final minutes of the match to round off what was a brilliant game for the player.
So does Maitland-Niles have what it takes to make it at Arsenal? In my opinion, although his chances in the first team have been limited, I think he does have the talent to still develop into a top quality player at Arsenal. Even though he is still mainly a part of the Arsenal Under21’s, I’d say that Maitland-Niles is one of the most talented youngsters on our books, the only problem is the position he plays.
We may not be blessed with having plenty of wingers to choose from at Arsenal, but the midfield is still a jam-packed area in the first team and unfortunately as much was the case for former Gunner Serge Gnabry, I think Maitland-Niles will struggle to get a chance ahead of the likes of Walcott, Ox, Alexis and Iwobi. It is the reason for why Campbell felt he had to leave on loan and so perhaps that’s why Maitland-Niles was given a go at right back. He has now had his chance with the first team and has proven he may have what it takes to have a good future at Arsenal, but with Hector Bellerin also proving likely to keep the right back position for many many years to come, perhaps Maitland-Niles will also find it difficult to break into that part of the Arsenal team.
I think he certainly has what it takes, but the main question is, where exactly will he get a chance to play?