Ainsley Maitland-Niles is a name Arsenal and football fans alike will be hearing a lot more of in the coming weeks and months after bursting emphatically into the Gunners’ senior set-up this term, and though it’s taken the 20-year-old over a decade to make the grade at the club, he believes that his journey at the north-Londoners has been an ‘amazing’ adventure.
The robust squad member, who formally developed as a left-back, is able to deputise in a range of positions across the park, and whilst reflecting upon his fledgling career at the Emirates, the park is indeed where he specifically recalls being spotted by his current employers at the age of 7, whilst playing for Lakeview.
Speaking to Arsenal Player, Maitland-Niles said: “I was playing in the park,
“They didn’t say anything to me but when I was sat in the car after the game, my dad turned around to me in the back seat and told me that there were scouts watching me.
“He didn’t exactly say who, but he told me that there were a few clubs watching me. I didn’t think anything of it at the time because I didn’t think about academies back then. I was just thinking that football was fun.
“I remember at my first Hale End trial there were loads of kids there.
“There were about 60 or 70 kids and we were split up into different teams. There were lots of pitches with different matches going on at the same time.”
Maitland-Niles was handed an opportunity to prove himself this season after a number of notable injuries hit Arsenal’s defensive contingent, including Sead Kolasinac and Nacho Monreal.
The England U21 international is understandably proud of his glowing progression under Arsene Wenger’s wing and supervision, a journey which he will evidently never take for granted.
“Now, I’d put joining the academy in the same category as making my first-team debut because now I know how much it really means to play for Arsenal. To go out there at Emirates Stadium every week is an amazing feeling,” he proceeded.
“I don’t think I knew how much [joining Arsenal’s academy] meant to me back then but if I heard that about my own kid, if I had one, I’d be over the moon. I know how much it really means and what sort of pathway it can lead you to.”