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Kids These Days: Ainsley Maitland-Niles

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Check out this new TSF series profiling our Young Gunners.

Not shown: crumpets
Not shown: crumpets
Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

Welcome to yet another new TSF ongoing series, Kids These Days (h/t to PDB for the name). In this series, we'll take a closer look at an Arsenal youth prospect, dissecting their strengths and weaknesses, analyzing their character solely from social media, and gauging their chances of making it to the first team.

It makes sense that to kick off this series with someone who will likely be on the bench for the first-team this weekend due to Arsenal's ailment accretion: Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

Bio Bullets

  • Maitland-Niles is a 17 year old human being that can grow a better mustache than this 28 year old writer (ED. NOTE: and this 45 year old one).
  • He has been at Arsenal since he was six. (SOURCE: THIS AWESOME VIDEO)
  • He possesses the "Greg Oden gene" which causes him to look like a 41 year old habitual smoker.
  • Likes to be called "Ains." I prefer typing AMN, but that's just me.
  • Owner of the most British name in the Arsenal set-up, narrowly edging out Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. In the end, Alex is just too normal a name.
  • Height: Goes up to Semi Ajayi's shoulder. (Ajayi is 6'4, so Ains is probably in the 5'8-5'10 range right now.)
Strengths and Weaknesses

Ains began his Arsenal career as a winger and really shone last season in that position, forcing his way into the U21 side at the tender age of 16. He ticks all the boxes of the modern winger: pacy, tricky, good right-footed cross, decent enough left foot to cut inside and solid defensive work rate getting back to help out his fullback. The last element of his game was the one which needed the most improvement, as attacking youngsters generally aren't good at all at defending, but he was above average at that task compared to other prospects. His strength for a young player is rather astonishing, especially for someone his age. His ability to shrug off challenges from opposition fullbacks last season was one of the more impressive points of his game.

He came into this season looking to build upon his strong play in a crowded group of attacking prospects. Early on, he shone as a winger in U21 action, however, recently, he has been played in central midfield. No real explanation has been given as to why he was pushed deeper on the pitch, but it makes sense for a number of reasons. First, as I mentioned earlier, the Arsenal U21 side has a glut of attacking prospects. Ains is generally a RW, the position generally manned by youth skipper Alex Iwobi. LW is manned by Arsenal youth sensation Daniel Crowley who, along with Ains, has been the player of the year in the Arsenal youth setup. Furthermore, Maitland-Niles has the build to play a dirtier role than Crowley or Zelalem or any other attacker outside of maybe Iwobi, who merely looked okay when he filled in at CM last season. Lastly, Arsenal really don't have any better options, if they want to squeeze their best talent on the pitch. Isaac Hayden has been injured and has been transitioning to centerback anyways. Glen Kamara has aged out of the UEFA Youth League competition. Arsene has always loved moving players around, especially when young, to improve their development. Seems like this is yet another instance of that philosophy.

He has played in what I'll call the "Ramsey role" of a 4-2-3-1 for the U21 side, generally paired with Kamara in midfield. For the U19 side, in UEFA Youth League action, he's played the "Flamini again?!? role" in a 4-2-3-1, paired with Gedion Zelalem. The AMN-Zelalem pivot is a lot like Ramsey and Wilshere playing together. In theory, one has slightly more defensive responsibilities than the other, but both should be mindful to cover the back when the other goes forward. In practice, both like to get forward an awful lot, to the detriment of the team's ability to defend counterattacks. So far, Maitland-Niles has covered up much of his positional naïveté with his pace and strength. On one hand, it's very impressive that he has that recovery ability. On the other hand, it's hard to gauge his probably effectiveness at that position at a higher level because he won't be able to rely on his elite athleticism. It is promising that he looked much more at ease in the DM position in the most recent UEFA Youth League match against Borussia Dortmund. He picked his spots much better and did a good job cleaning up Dortmund attacks.

He does fit the Ramsey mold much better. He has a great workrate and never seems to get tired. Furthermore, he loves to take potshots from distance! It can be annoying at times, but you also get moments like this:


CHARACTER JUDGMENT VIA SOCIAL MEDIA

He's got a private Instagram account, so no judgment there. No verified twitter account so who knows if that is actually him. All I have to go off of is that YouTube video I posted earlier. He loves watching Fresh Prince of Bel Air though, so clearly he is a good person.

FIRST-TEAM CHANCES

His chances to sit on the first-team bench tomorrow look very, very strong depending on whether some injury doubts have miraculous recoveries overnight. Long term, the future also looks very bright. As I mentioned earlier, he and Crowley have been the standouts of the youth team thus far. To have that level of success at his age is incredible, and bodes well for his future with the club.

So after using a very complicated and scientific method to determine probability and stuff, on a scale of JINGLE ALL THE WAY to the original MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, I give Ainsley Maitland-Niles a A CHRISTMAS STORY. I foresee him featuring frequently on your television screen during the busy holiday season for many years to come, possibly starting as early as this year if Forsythe doesn't get his act together.