The 17-year-old has received rave reviews for his performances at youth level and is expected to be handed a first team opportunity this season
At 17-years-old, Reiss Nelson represents an increasingly rare bright spark in an otherwise declining Arsenal academy. The versatile attacker signed his first professional contract last season after impressing in the youth ranks and he has continued to live up to expectations over the past few months, culminating in a pre-season call-up to the club’s tour of Australia and China.
While others have bemoaned the results at youth level and seen the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City utilise their billions to lead the way, Nelson has shown that the Gunners’ Hale End academy is still capable of producing exciting talents who have the potential to play for the first team.
Arsene Wenger’s decision to reward Nelson’s performances for the academy with a place in the first team squad emphasises the faith he has in the English youngster. Nelson was named Man of the Match in the 2-0 win over Sydney FC and many believes he can become a star of the future if he continues along the same grail.
There is some debate over which position Nelson’s future lies, although Wenger revealed over the summer that he played him at right wing-back in a bid to further his development with regards to defensive responsibilities.
“He’s a more offensive player, more a guy who can play as one of the three strikers or as an offensive midfielder,” Wenger told Arsenal Player. “What is good for his education is to play in this position as well because we learn how to cope with defensive responsibilities, and that’s a good part of the education of the modern player."
“As strikers or creative players, you tend to have two kinds of players. Some who are good at running with the ball, and some who are good at running off the ball. He’s more a player who likes the ball to his feet and provokes opponents by passing them.”
This season Nelson has already scored six goals in four Premier League 2 matches, the most recent coming with a curling free-kick against Manchester United just days after being named as the competition's Player of the Month for August.
Expectations surrounding Nelson are high, and understandably so. It is quite a while since Arsenal had a player come through their ranks that looks so obviously destined for the top. He oozes confidence and cunning, blessed with quick feet, tremendous pace and superb control, not to mention a ruthlessness in front of goal. Comparisons with a certain Arsenal great, who must not be named, are inevitable.
Where he lines up against Koln – awkwardly at wing-back or in his best role further forward – will reveal a lot about whether he has changed his ways, and if Nelson can make it – at least under Wenger’s tutelage. If any player merits a change in approach from the manager, and more bravery, it is the coruscating Nelson, and he will either be the legacy Wenger leaves behind when he’s done, or the final indictment of his increasingly wasteful approach to youth.