Successful Youth System
The Arsenal youth system has been, quite correctly, revered in the last 20 years for its ability to produce top quality young players year after year. This is why Arsenal have been able to charge through the early stages of cup competition using teams filled to the brim with youngsters. This year is no different, despite the galling defeat to Nottingham Forest. That defeat came against the odds and was a massive upset to everyone.
The likes of Reiss Nelson have excited in the Europa League, and of course Eddie Nketiah was the League Cup hero against Norwich. But the main man to emerge this year was one that people may not have predicted. Injuries to Sead Kolasinac and Nacho Monreal meant that 20-year-old Ainsley Maitland Niles stepped up to the plate.
Having risen through the academy, Maitland-Niles came into the first team out of necessity. Despite being a natural central player, he adapted swiftly to the rigours of wing-back, and not even on his favoured side. Ever present in the Europa League, and having made 8 appearances in the league, he has improved with every game.
His playing style has been evident from his first appearance, demonstrating obvious calmness and composure on the ball and when defending. During his 30 Championship appearances for Ipswich, he scored once and only racked up two assists. But he was an integral part of Mick McCarthy’s side, and learned a lot about the importance of work rate in a team.
It was during his time at Ipswich that gave McCarthy “no doubt” that Maitland-Niles would become a first teamer for Arsenal in no time, and he’s certainly been proven right.
At Ipswich, he put together a pass completion rate of 70%. This year as a first teamer for Arsenal, he has 85%. This is the first indication of his improvement in only two seasons. He is maturing with every game, which may lead to him becoming a vital central player within the next few years.
His defensive game has come on leaps and bounds too. He puts in 2 tackles per game as a wing-back, which is excellent for a player that covers so much ground, without the natural rapidity of someone like Bellerin. He also makes 2 clearances per game, which is more than in his previous roles. He has adapted to his deeper position without any problems, proving his maturity at such a young age.
Arsenal are currently in one of the strangest transfer windows of the last ten years. Sanchez could end up anywhere, a number of players are looking to switch to North London, and the chances of a trophy are lower than ever.
But the foundation of Wenger’s reign still continues. Build, don’t buy. And Maitland-Niles is the solid gold proof of that philosophy.