A team packed with youngsters coasted to a 4-2 victory in Arsenal’s final Europa League group game against Dundalk on Thursday night.
Hale End graduates Ben Cottrell, Eddie Nketiah, Miguel Azeez, Folarin Balogun, Emile Smith Rowe and Joe Willock all represented the Gunners’ academy with style.
Arguably the most impressive youngster on show though was Ainsley Maitland-Niles who showed his quality yet again in the Europa League. However, when it comes to the Premier League the versatile midfielder has made just two starts this season.
At 23-years-of-age the player knows he is need of game time and came close to a move to Wolves in the summer but was convinced by Mikel Arteta to stay. As it turns out, that is looking increasingly like the wrong decision, and he has recently switched his agent with a view to a move in the summer.
Click to play
Tap to play
The video will auto-play soon8Cancel
It’s hard not to sympathise with Maitland-Niles’ desire for more. He has been in and around the Arsenal first team for four years now. He will surely have to wonder, if not after a starring role in the FA Cup final and a man of the match performance in the Community Shield, then when will his chance to be a regular starter at the Emirates Stadium ever come.
There has long been a myth that Arsenal is a good breeding ground for young talent where players are given a chance based on merit regardless of their age. But if you look at the current squad aside from Bukayo Saka, the last academy graduate to break into the first team and become a regular was Hector Bellerin. That happened six years ago.
In that time players like Alex Iwobi, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Donyell Malen, Ismael Bennacer, Chuba Akpom and Calum Chambers have all flirted with the first team but never been given long enough runs to nail down starting positions. With exception of Chambers, all the players on that list have gone on to flourish…