It has been a very good week for Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Not only has the versatile youngster helped England U20s to the brink of glory in the World Cup for that age group but he has also been mentioned by Arsene Wenger as a candidate to break into the Arsenal first-team squad next season.
Capable of playing on the right-wing, at right-back or as a central-midfielder, Maitland-Niles is composed in possession, breaks forwards with ease and is effective at winning the ball back.
Of all the youngsters in the U23 set-up he was the closest to the senior squad this campaign and ended up making seven first-team appearances to add to the two outings he received a couple of seasons previously.
A loan spell at Ipswich Town in between helped him to mature and Maitland-Niles is now thriving at international level, too, with his performances having helped England to reach the final of the U20 World Cup, in which they will face Venezuela this weekend.
From an Arsenal perspective, however, it is most intriguing how he will be utilised next season. Any suggestion of him going out on loan, at least in the first half of the campaign, appears to have been scotched by Wenger’s suggestion that the prospect will become increasingly involved with the first-team.
The Europa League would certainly provide Maitland-Niles with a useful environment in which to gain further experience of senior football and the prospect will be determined to repay Wenger’s faith in him.
Quite how he fits into Arsenal’s new formation, should it be persisted with, remains to be seen, but the most likely option would be for him to be deployed as a central-midfielder, where he can contribute both going forwards and defensively.
There is also an intriguing possibility of Maitland-Niles playing as a right wing-back. Although he hasn’t previously played in that position, the presumption is that he would be able to thrive there given his qualities and if such a scenario unfolds then it would provide Arsenal with another useful option in that area of the pitch.
Wherever he plays, though, Maitland-Niles will be determined to continue developing and making an impact. He has a genuine opportunity to succeed at Arsenal and it is now up to him to seize it.