Despite the fact that he has already featured in the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup, Ainsley Maitland-Niles hasn’t quite received the same level of hype as many of his fellow Arsenal youngsters.
That trend has extended to this season, with Maitland-Niles going diligently about his work at Championship side Ipswich Town, where he is steadily improving under the tutelage of Mick McCarthy.
To feature prominently in the Championship at the age of 18- Maitland-Niles has played in all of Ipswich’s league fixtures so far- is a sure sign that your development is on track, and the England youth international has been earning rave reviews from the Portman Road faithful.
His adaptability is also one of his key assets. Maitland-Niles was a winger when he broke into Arsenal’s U18 team, but was deployed almost exclusively as a central-midfielder at youth level last season, to much success.
This campaign, the youngster has been mainly used on the right wing for Ipswich, although he has occasionally featured on the left, but, wherever he plays, his enthusiasm for the game is always evident.
Quick, a good passer and capable of shooting from distance, Maitland-Niles has long been highly regarded amongst the club’s coaching staff at youth level, but it is only really in the past couple of seasons that his talent has become more obvious to a wider audience.
Maitland-Niles featured in the NextGen Series, an U19 European tournament that was the precursor to the UEFA Youth League, when he was 15. He then went on to break into the Arsenal U21 team as a first-year scholar and, during his second year as a full time player, was involved with Arsene Wenger’s squad on several occasions last season.
Now he is taking another crucial step in his development and will return to Arsenal in the summer an even better player.
It may still be too early at that juncture for Maitland-Niles to be deemed ready to challenge for a place in the first-team squad, with another loan deal a possibility, but his rapid progress won’t be able to be ignored for too long.
Guessing which youngsters will make the grade at Arsenal is always an extremely difficult task, with so many variables to take into consideration, but with Maitland-Niles it is very hard to envisage him ever becoming over-confident.
Instead, he appears very much to be a player who is willing to keep on learning and who isn’t afraid to try different things and make mistakes.
His name may not be the first to come mind when you think of Arsenal’s greatest talents, but Maitland-Niles is continuing to develop prominently and it seems highly unlikely that those aforementioned first-team appearances he made last season won’t be added to at some point.