It has been some trajectory for Ainsley Maitland-Niles over the last two seasons.
True, Maitland-Niles made his first-team debut way back in 2014, as a sub at half time in our Champions League tie against Galatasaray, making him the second youngest player to represent us.
But it wasn’t until 2016/17 that the man with the self-styled moniker of ‘Bird-Catcher’ really rose to prominence.
The season before was spent on loan at Ipswich Town in the Championship, where he earned rave reviews from then Boss Mick McCarthy. In 2016/17 though, Maitland-Niles began to scrape together starts for the club. A League cup start here, a Europa League start there - AMN was becoming hard to ignore.
Then, last season, the versatile youngster made over 20 starts for the Gunners, across all competitions. He was no longer viewed as second string, the kid had made the jump from talented youngster, to veritable starter, and deservedly so.
He also grafted so hard that he began to make inroads into central midfield. Primarily used as a wing-back at first, AMN’s displays, ice-cold temperament and great touch made him a great shout to play in the engine room, exactly where he prefers. With the level of competition he ousted, this was perhaps his greatest victory.
Maitland-Niles began this season very much in Emery’s plans, but an injury early on against Manchester City in the first game of the season has dented his wonderful progress. But there is another potential danger;
Does Maitland-Niles need to stick to one position in order to nail down a spot?
If everyone is fit in the squad, then Ainsley will find it much harder to fight for a CM spot than as a left-back. With Elneny, Xhaka, Torreira and Ramsey in the way in the centre of the park, perhaps a rethink over what position is in his future is perhaps in order?
With Nacho Monreal maybe having two seasons left in the tank at his current level, that leaves the youngster and Sead Kolasinac fighting it out for the number 3 shirt.
Or should Maitland-Niles continue to do exactly what he has done so far - and destroy any doubts as to how good he really is? Last season he saw off every one of our central midfielders to grab a start, there is no reason why he can’t do so again. His stamina is up there with the best, his tackling is fantastic - half the reason why he is so good in defence - and with a bit of experience, his passing will be as good too.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles has already shown he has a maturity that is not often bestowed upon kids his age, and his dedication cannot be questioned.
Whatever position he chooses, his Arsenal career appears to be very bright indeed - and we’re lucky to have him.