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This Arsenal youth star faces key season ahead.


Best friends playing in the same position with similar skillsets meant that comparisons between Jadon Sancho and Reiss Nelson have always been easily made. In the three years since the former left England and blossomed into one of the best talents in the Bundesliga however, Nelson has struggled to get minutes under a range of Arsenal managers. In fact, he has seen other, less highly regarded Hale End talents surpass him in the pecking order, most notably 19-year-old Bukayo Saka, who has shown himself proficient on either wing. Still only 20 years old himself, Nelson has plenty of time to deliver on the promise he has shown in his career to date. This season, however, represents a key time for the U21 international for several reasons.

Nelson has been deployed on both the left and right-wing as the situation required, but for the most part, favours the right-hand side. Unlike his team-mate Nicolas Pepe, Nelson favours his right foot, meaning that for the most part the youngster is looking to beat his man before crossing or cutting the ball back, rather than cutting inside onto his left foot as Pepe does. The 2018/19 season saw Nelson loaned out to German outfit Hoffenheim, under the tutelage of the highly regarded Julian Nagelsmann. The Englishman impressed, netting seven goals in under 600 minutes of Bundesliga football before injury curtailed his involvement.

The 2019/2020 season

Returning to North London for the 2019/20 campaign, Nelson found himself in and out of the matchday squad, racking up 17 league appearances but just 626 minutes, an average of just 35 minutes per game. As those statistics suggest, Nelson was often favoured as an option from the substitutes bench, with club-record signing Nicolas Pepe the preferred starter. Five appearances across the FA Cup, Carabao Cup and Europa League yielded a more impressive two goals and three assists, including the only goal in Arsenal’s win against Leeds in the FA Cup third round.

For England’s youth set up too, he has been effective, netting five times in ten matches for the Under 21’s. It has never been a matter of confidence for the young Lion. Volunteering to take the first penalty in the Community Shield shoot-out win against the Champions of England emphasised his strength of character, his desire to stand up and be counted, and his willingness to accept accountability. These are rare traits to find in a 20-year-old, but this season these qualities have to translate into open play results. Too often, he looked unsure of what he wanted to do, and often when was sure, his feet failed to keep up with his brain, leaving him on the floor. Even in spells where Nicolas Pepe could have benefitted from a rest or some time away from the spotlight, Nelson was rarely trusted to contribute much beyond pressing and defensive assistance.

Moving Forwards

That could change this season, however. Arteta has already demonstrated his willingness to offer game time to youth prospects as well as picking players on merit rather than reputation; the inclusion of newly capped Ainsley Maitland-Niles in key matches can be seen as proof of this. In Nelson’s case, the question has never been about his talent, rather his consistency. If he cannot find consistent minutes at Arsenal, a loan move to a fellow Premier League side could prove fruitful for all parties.

With the addition of Willian, a versatile option available to play on the right-hand side if necessary, Nelson’s game time could become even more threatened. Throw in fellow youngsters Emile Smith-Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli plus, dare we suggest, some game time for the opinion-dividing Mesut Ozil, and competition for places in the attacking third could be significantly higher than it was last season. For Arsenal and Arsenal fans this will of course be a massive positive, but even at just 20, this season feels like one that could really shape Nelson’s Arsenal career.

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