The Arsenal production line is world famous in its development of top young talent that not only benefit Arsenal, but a host of English and European clubs. It's more then common for fans of other teams far and wide to admire the plethora of exciting raw talent at Arsene Wenger's disposal. Many football fans outside of the Gunners will be able to tell you all about the excitement of Chuba Akpom, the ability of Dan Crowley or the potential of Gedion Zelalem, but another exciting prospect flies a little lower under the radar, his name, Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
The supremely talented Maitland-Niles currently plies his trade in the Championship with Ipswich Town under the guidance of Mick McCarthy. Life in the second league has started impressively with the 18-year-old turning in some eye catching performances. His debut against Brentford saw the young midfielder play across both wings and through the middle. Weeks later he picked up the man of the match award for his display against Burnley. The young Englishman was a constant menace to the Clarets backline and he confidently claimed his first assist as David McGoldrick connected with his corner. The Arsenal Loanee's clever passing, pace and crossing ability quickly endeared him to the Ipswich fans.
He capped off a productive month with the Tractor Boys by appearing for England's under 19s. Not many England youth games fill column inches, but the exception was made for Maitland-Niles 25-yard rocket, worthy of winning any game and that it did for England against the German counterparts.
What defines the youth international as a hidden gem are the characteristics that set him above his contemporaries. Whilst many are excited about Zelalem and Crowley they are slight in stature and will face a rough ride to survive the physical demands of the Premier League. Whilst others have come and gone with physical abilities, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Chuks Aneke, they did not work hard enough to create opportunities for themselves. Maitland-Niles has the usual advanced technique you would expect from an Arsenal youth product, but what sets him apart is his workrate and determination. It's rare to see Wenger send an 18-year-old to a Championship side for his first loan. He clearly trusts the young prospect is at a stage in his development where he is ready for more responsibility.
He is expected to play a key part in bringing promotion to Portman Road and Mick McCarthy has confidence in his player, telling the BBC;
"Wow, the talent of him; I think he is going to play for Arsenal, there is no doubt in my mind," McCarthy said.
"Nobody knew anything about him. I watched him play against Reading for [Arsenal's] Under-21s last season and I thought he was great. I enquired about him in January, but they needed him for their Champions League squad.
"I had the conversation with him – 'I know you can play, but if you don't run around and don't put a shift in you won't play' – but he's a workaholic."
The teenager has been at Arsenal since the age of nine, coming through the ranks with Chuba Akpom, Stefan O'Connor and Alex Iwobi. He began with the Under 18's in the 2012/13 season and progressed to Steve Gatting's Under 21's a year later. This is where he started to find some consistency in his game and began to develop a goal-scoring touch, most notably his ability to score spectacular goals from distance.
What came next was an issue all involved will want to forget as Maitland-Niles made the headlines for the wrong reasons. The player's mother, Jules Niles was reportedly involved in two incidents at the training ground in Colney, where she had to be removed by the police. One was said to have involved a fracas with Arsenal's chief negotiator Dick Law. Niles was subsequently banned from the Hertfordshire base for the reminder of the season. Luckily no damage was done and no charges were pressed. Wenger was quick to point out the young prospects behaviour was impeccable and this incident would bare no impact on his future in North London.
Months previous to this, Arsene suprised everyone by including Maitland-Niles in the Champions League squad and then brought him on for the last 35-minutes of final group game in Istanbul against Galatasaray. The acadamy product suddenly found himself contesting second balls against Wesley Sneijder and Felipe Melo. The debutant did not look out of place, display a range of neat passing and quick pressing. This was a clear indication that he is a player Wenger rates and sees in his future plans. He went on to make two further appearances in the latter stages of a Premier League game against Newcastle and a Third Round FA Cup tie against Hull earlier this year.
The future is bright for Maitland-Niles, he is proving a real threat for Ipswich and is clearly rated there, but all the signs point to Wenger being well aware his hidden gem will come back to him a better player, ready for more responsibility. The Englishman has the key ingredients to succeed at the highest level, Blistering pace, tenacious workrate, vibrant movement and a passing/crossing ability that will surely assist a fair share of goals, but his long-range shooting will write the headlines and in-time, unearth this hidden gem.