It can often be difficult for players to go back to playing youth team football when they have already experienced the first-team game, but Ainsley Maitland-Niles has relished being a senior figure for Arsenal U23s so far this season.
The young Gunners have struggled in the top flight so far- suffering defeats to Reading and Manchester City- but Maitland-Niles was particularly impressive in the latter fixture as he caused numerous problems for the City defence.
Maitland-Niles,who turns 19 on Monday, has featured in several positions during his Arsenal career, usually out wide or as a deep-lying central-midfielder. So far this season he has been used as an attacking midfielder and that position seems to suit his qualities, with the England youth international capable of linking play effectively.
The prospect had a truncated pre-season as a consequence of his involvement with England at the U19 European Championships, which meant that he was unable to feature for the Arsenal first-team.
A player who is highly regarded by Arsene Wenger, Maitland-Niles has been used to playing above his age group- he featured for Arsenal in the NextGen Series when he was still a schoolboy- but he now finds himself in an unusual situation as one of the the oldest players in the Arsenal U23 side.
Last season’s loan spell at Ipswich Town was a learning curve for the youngster as he experienced both highs and lows. Maitland-Niles started the campaign in fine fashion as he regularly made some dangerous forays down the right flank, but by the end of the season he found himself on the fringes of the team.
It remains to be seen what this campaign has in store for Maitland-Niles, but he hasn’t been heavily linked with a loan departure, so the initial signs suggest that he will be staying with Arsenal for now. Regular game time in the U23s and perhaps some run-outs in the EFL Cup could help him get back used to playing frequently again before heading out on loan in the second half of the season.