Why Reiss Nelson deserves a first-team opportunity
It’s another case of new season, same old story at Arsenal. They get linked with a top player, in this case, Wilfried Zaha, and then make a bid that sees them fall flat on their face.
Crystal Palace want £80m for their star player, which will certainly not be met given the limited budget at Unai Emery‘s disposal. Seeing the continued speculation made me realise: a winger shouldn’t be the top priority in this transfer window. As is the norm at Arsenal, the focus should be primarily on improving the back-four.
The latest rumours are a player-plus-cash offer for Zaha, with Reiss Nelson going out on loan. The response was negative amongst Arsenal fans, which isn’t surprising. So why not give Nelson a chance in the first-team instead?
He’s younger, and arguably has more to prove
Nelson might only be 19 but fans are wanting to see him featured more at Arsenal. He debuted in 2017 but only made three Premier League appearances in Arsene Wenger’s final season in charge. He would be used more prominently in cup games, especially the Europa League alongside Emile Smith-Rowe who also had a loan spell in Germany last season with RB Leipzig. In total, he’s only made 16 appearances in all competitions and is yet to score. If Emery takes a gamble and starts Nelson then it’s only a matter of time before those stats change.
Arsenal do have an issue with pace going forward it isn’t a surprise that Emery wants to bring in Zaha, but Nelson has the same qualities as the Crystal Palace winger and is seven years younger. The alternatives are Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and neither of them played well last season. At times, they struggled to create chances in the final third, with their decision-making letting them both down. Nelson can change all of that as he has the pace, determination and an eye for goal that will frighten defences.
His spell on-loan at Hoffenheim was impressive, as is his international record
Nelson spent last season in the Bundesliga on loan at Hoffenheim. He made his debut as a second-half substitute and made an immediate impact by scoring in a 2-1 loss to Fortuna Dusseldorf. Despite the result that’s still a good way to introduce yourself to your new fans.
In total, he made 25 appearances and scored seven goals in all competitions which is a decent tally considering he was primarily a back-up player. The 19-year-old also has experience in the Champions League, something that most of the Arsenal squad don’t have.
His performances last season resulted in a call-up to the England Under-21 squad, meaning that he’s played at all youth levels for the Three Lions. Like at Hoffenheim, Nelson made his debut as a second-half substitute, this time in an U21 European Championship qualifier against Andorra. History repeated itself as he scored just minutes after coming on, the sixth goal in a 7-0 win. Just to rub salt in the wounds of Andorra, his goal was courtesy of a backheel. Nelson has since gone on to score three in just six appearances for the U21’s. Again, not a bad record to have.
Loan spells can help the development of any young footballer, and Nelson is another example of that. The only setback was most of his appearances were as a substitute, so while he does have the capability to be an impact player, that isn’t what he should be used as next season. Give him opportunities for a full 90 minutes and his confidence will continue to grow with each game.
He wouldn’t cost a penny!
Emery can focus elsewhere in the transfer window if he gives Nelson a chance to shine. Of course, his age is a factor but look at Paris Saint Germain striker Kylian Mbappe. He’s only 20 and has scored 46 goals in 56 games in just two years. It’s time for Arsenal to start taking risks like that if they want to start challenging for trophies.
Being in a front-three with Aubameyang and Lacazette would do wonders for the 19-year-old who would add extra creativity. Despite being primarily a winger, his versatility means that he can rotate with the frontmen and Mesut Özil which would surely give defences nightmares.
Without Champions League football the top names will not join Arsenal, so Emery has to start regularly playing the youngsters. Nelson can be the catalyst for the new generation of talent with Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock also looking to make an impact.