What better way to prepare for the upcoming Premier League season than talking about players who won’t be playing in it?
As the preseason comes to an end, we’re taking a quick look at Arsenal’s standout youth players. We’ll consider their individual performances, rating them on a 1-10 scale based on what we think their chances are of breaking into the first team this year.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Number 55, Age 19
If Nelson was the biggest success in the preseason, Ainsley Maitland-Niles was the biggest disappointment, especially considering his experience. Only his performance vs Benfica prevents me from giving him 3/10. Against Bayern and Chelsea, the 19-year-old looked lost. He struggled to defend, found himself regularly out of position, and gave the ball way constantly. I can only assume that Wenger’s stuck him at center-half to hasten his education—to throw him into the deep and demand that he swim.
To his credit, he smashed Franck Ribery with a crunching tackle that—as far as entertainment is concerned—almost made up for an otherwise dreadful performance.
All of this being said, fans have been excited about Maitland-Niles for a while now, and this preseason shouldn't change that.
Let’s keep two things in mind: 1) Maitland-Niles is not a defender. The truth is he doesn’t have the defensive capabilities to cope with the defensive duties of the 3-4-3 formation. For the youth team, he’s played in more attacking positions. The learning curve at the next level is steep, and he’s going to need some time before he can be a full-feature in our current system. 2) He has all the makings of an Arsenal player. He exhibits technically proficiency, extraordinary stamina, and prodigious passing range. The good news for him is that, like his compatriot Reiss Nelson, he’s capable of playing a variety of positions. Center back is just not one of them.
Firstly, Ainsley has to be one of the best names I have ever heard.
Maitland-Niles made appearances in a few games over the course of 2016/17, but a good preseason would have made a case for more. Maitland-Niles has a strong tackle and great defensive presence, something Ribery was a victim of during his game against Bayern. He is well positioned in the defense and seems to be learning from working with more experienced members of the Arsenal squad.
Maitland-Niles is a player with a future in football for time to come, but his preseason will not be a good reflection for the upcoming season. His passing at times seems lackadaisical and almost as if there was no sense of urgency. This cost the second goal against Benfica, when an errant pass just outside the Arsenal box led to an easy goal. Chelsea's Willian should have punished him as well for a poor clearance that left Arsenal outnumbered on defense. This happened twice during the match against the Blues! He plays a different game than other players in his position at Arsenal, which leads me to think he may need to be more versatile to break into the Arsenal team. A loan spell would not be the worst thing for the Englishman. Love this kid, he will be just fine moving forward as long as he learns from this summer and the coming season.