Ainsley Maitland-Niles is far from old. In fact, he’s only just turned 17. Yet, after only one season with the under-21s, he is already a senior figure in the team.
The winger has been vital since he made the step up to under-21s football last season and his rapid progression was even rewarded by Arsene Wenger, who called him up to train with the first team before their Capital One Cup clash with Southampton.
With Emiliano Martinez, Hector Bellerin, Semi Ajayi and Isaac Hayden all in the first-team squad, Maitland-Niles rejoined the under-21s that evening to play against a powerful Newcastle United side as one of the young Gunners’ oldest players.
"It’s quite hard to adapt but we’ve got the players and this year I think we’re going to go far"
“I think it was really tough for us physically because we had a lot of young, under-18 players on the pitch,” he said. “I was one of the older players, with Tafari [Moore] and Stefan [O’Connor], and it was difficult because they were a lot bigger than us but I think we dealt with it well.
“It was hard for us because we didn’t really get to train together, but I think the under-18s did really well. I’ve just got to share the experience with them and let them know right from wrong when they’re playing under-21s football.”
Maitland-Niles also played in the under-19s’ Youth League opener and believes his European experience is something else he can pass onto the younger crop ahead of Wednesday’s game against Galatasaray.
“It was good because last year we got quite far and against Barcelona we should’ve won, but we didn’t,” he recalled.
“It’s very different to English football. Players’ tactics are different, and the way teams play and press is a lot different as well. It’s quite hard to adapt but we’ve got the players and this year I think we’re going to go far.”
Admittance to all under-21 and European youth fixtures at Boreham Wood FC will be free of charge.
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club Limited. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.