Arsenal: Mikel Arteta's quotes from 2020 show Reiss Nelson has always been a BIG part of his plans
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has told fans before to "trust the process" – Reiss Nelson must have wondered himself whether that included him.
Having joined the club when he was just eight years old, Nelson was tipped for huge things at Arsenal, making his Premier League debut in Arsene Wenger's final season and winning the PL2 Player of the Year in 2018. It's not quite worked out that way, however: the likes of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have surpassed him in the pecking order from the academy and his future remains uncertain.
Nelson is out of contract at the end of the season but despite suddenly seizing the spotlight at Arsenal, it's no accident that Arteta turned to him to make a difference – and he may well do again…
Mikel Arteta has shown faith in Reiss Nelson throughout his Arsenal career
On Boxing Day 2019, Mikel Arteta took to a dugout as a manager for the first time – funnily enough, against Bournemouth, too. His line-up was a drastic departure from Unai Emery's time in north London with a possession-based 4-2-3-1 favoured and some surprises throughout the team.
18-year-old Bukayo Saka featured at left-back, long before anyone thought of him as a right-winger. In that particular spot, Reiss Nelson was trusted – and he was to be trusted across the Basque boss's first season in management as an impactful impetus to drive Arsenal on from the bench. He started the following game at home to Chelsea and was dropped into the starting XI against Liverpool.
There's a case to be made that were it not for injury issues, Nelson would be more of a regular in this Arsenal side. “I always saw the potential,” Arteta said after the Bournemouth game but actually, he's banging that drum for a while – and always said that if Nelson was in the right space and training in the right way, he could reach a world-class level of ability.
“I know Reiss because I coached him when he was 16 and straightaway he caught my eye,” Arteta said. “He is a boy that is willing to learn and loves the game but I think he has been a little bit confused in the last few years – what direction he had to take, some of the decisions that he made.
“Now I can see he really wants it and I think he has the potential to do whatever he wants. He needs guidance, he needs a little bit of a stick and he’s up for it. I put him to play and I trust him because he wants it and I think he can deliver.
“What I will say is that Reiss has the potential to do whatever he wants. If he wants to do it, wants to learn and wants to challenge himself he can be a top, top player for this football club.”
In fact, even Nelson's loans suggest he has always been groomed for a first-team spot. First, he went to Hoffenheim under Julian Nagelsmann; then, to Feyenoord under the highly-rated Arne Slot. If Arsenal were keen to get rid of him, they would've more likely sent him to a Premier League or Championship side with a view to making the deal permanent – not two European giants known for development.
Nelson would hardly be the first player to earn a regular spot under Arteta the long way around: after all, not everyone bursts onto the scene like Saka. Emile Smith Rowe went on loan to Huddersfield Town under Arteta, Eddie Nketiah ran his contract down behind Alexandre Lacazette in the pecking order, William Saliba had false starts and loans and even Gabriel Martinelli had to be patient.
If this 23-year-old Hale End graduate can force himself into contention, this just might be the sweetest development story of the lot, though…