Reiss Nelson scored his first Premier League goal in Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Liverpool. Is the young winger now ready to break through and into the starting XI?
Mikel Arteta is clearly a huge supporter in Reiss Nelson. As soon as Arteta arrived at the club, Nelson started his first two games in charge. He wrapped Nelson under his wing after a 1-1 draw with Bournemouth, his very first match as Arsenal manager.
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Nelson then missed time with an injury, but as soon as he was fit to return, he immediately started in the FA Cup, producing perhaps his best display of the season in a 2-0 victory over Portsmouth. Nelson provided the crucial moments of quality to assist both goals.
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Arteta has spoken very positively about Nelson’s talent, too. After the Portsmouth victory, Arteta called Nelson a ‘special player’ and someone who can ‘eliminate players one on one’. And on Wednesday night against Liverpool, Nelson made his second start since the restart.
With Arteta rotating through the team a little ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City, Nelson started in a front three alongside Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette. He worked tirelessly, pressed hard, drove at the Liverpool defence when he had the rare opportunity to do so, and was tidy in possession.
He also produced two crucial moments to hand Arsenal the win. It was his pressure that forced Virgil van Dijk’s errant pass that Alexandre Lacazette intercepted and rounded Alisson Becker to score. Nelson then scored himself, receiving Lacazette’s cross after Alisson’s error-strewn pass and brilliantly side-footing a finish into the far corner. In his post-match interview with the official club website, Nelson expressed his happiness at notching his first Premier League goal:
“It’s great. I feel like this is something that we’ve been doing and want to be doing. We want to be winning games and training well and I think we’ve done that. I’m happy that I got my start, that we got the result and I scored as well.”
Lacazette also spoke about Nelson’s performance and future. With the official club website, the striker and captain on the night said:
“He is a big talent and does a lot of work behind [the scenes]. I trust in him, he is working a lot in every training session and today he had the chance to start and I am really happy for him because I think he deserves it.”
This was certainly not an outstanding, brilliant, breakout performance from Nelson. He was perfectly capable and did not look out of his depth, which is something against the best team in the Premier League. But perhaps it handed him the confidence to compete for a starting role. Certainly, the man he is challenging, Nicolas Pepe, has not made the right-wing position his own just yet.
Nelson is hugely talented, yes, but he has seen fellow academy graduates Bukayo Saka and Eddie Nketiah surpass him. While they are now regular starters, he is still on the fringes. Maybe this performance and goal could be the start of his own journey into a more prominent first-team role.