All eyes have been on Arsenal new boys Nicholas Pepe, Kieran Tierney and David Luiz following Unai Emery’s transfer business this summer.
But the departure of Alex Iwobi to Everton has opened the way for teenage striker Reiss Nelson to seize his chance in the opening weeks of the season.
Having been preferred to Pepe in the starting line-up for the Gunners’ opener at Newcastle on Sunday, PA assesses Nelson’s start on the big stage.
Nelson was hauled back from his loan spell at Hoffenheim after a hugely impressive campaign in the Bundesliga, where he scored seven goals in 23 appearances and caught the eye with his attacking intent. That intent was evident again at St James’ Park as Nelson made good driving runs and got behind the home defence.
Nelson probably did not do enough to convince Unai Emery that he is quite ready to hold down a regular first team place. He drifted out of the game for long periods and a pair of wayward passes in the first period illustrated that for all his headline-grabbing antics in the Bundesliga last season, he still has some way to go to develop to his full potential.
Nelson’s darkest moment may have conversely provided a note of encouragement for Emery. After gifting a pass to Newcastle’s Fabian Schar in the 24th minute, Nelson responded with a clattering late challenge on his opponent, which earned him a booking. Although it smacked of frustration, it at least suggested that Nelson will not be overawed by the Premier League’s physicality.
Gunners fans are clearly desperate for Nelson, along with fellow graduate Joe Willock, to succeed, and they made their enthusiasm known when Nelson departed to an ovation from the visiting fans in the 71st minute. They will have been cheered by his overall performance, if not the occasional lapses which underlined how far he still has to go in order to hold down a regular first team place.
The fact that Nelson was replaced by Arsenal’s record signing Pepe, whom Emery decided to blood belatedly, says it all about the teenager’s chances of keeping his place for the Gunners’ next game against Burnley next week. But nothing Nelson did against Steve Bruce’s side dissuaded a broad swathe of respected opinion that he is making his first tentative steps towards being a first team regular and a full England international to boot.
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