Football is a game of thin margins and there are few players who prove that more than Reiss Nelson. Returning to Arsenal after a successful loan spell with Hoffenheim, the Hale Ender were handed back-to-back Premier League starts by Unai Emery, and appeared to have had a chance in the second as they slugged it home against Burnley. As he left to celebrate, the sight of an assistant hoisting flag was what greeted him as Nacho Monreal was ruled offside in the build-up. Nelson was taken off at half-time and did not start another league game for four months.
Those close shaves came to define his career with the Gunners the following season. Every time the winger seemed to gain momentum, he was badly hit with a nagging injury. Despite expressing his admiration for the winger, Mikel Arteta admitted there was little more Nelson could do to get more playing time than the eight appearances he had been handed. “He’s a boy who tries really hard, he trains every day, he wants to do more all the time,” said the Spaniard. “It’s very difficult at the moment with the players we need to be able to integrate. I’m sorry we don’t have other competitions to use him because he deserves more. He doesn’t play more and that’s my fault.”
As the campaign drew to a close, it was impossible not to wonder what Nelson might do if given the chance to consistently prove himself at senior level. Having finally had that opportunity on loan at Feyenoord this season, it’s safe to say the Gunners youngster grabbed it with both hands.
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It still took some time for things to fall into place. Arrived late in the window, he will not make his first tenure in Holland until December after injuring his groin in training. After his frustrations in previous seasons, it would have been easy for the 22-year-old to become indifferent, but that’s when his impressive mentality shone through. In the face of adversity, Nelson decided he would begin to acclimate his body to the rigors of regular first-team football and set about doing extra work with the Feyenoord coaching staff.
“The intensity was quite high in training. Monday to Wednesday would be quite difficult; at Arsenal, Monday and Tuesday, we would do more technical stuff. So I just had to adapt and with that came some issues that I had to deal with on my own,” he said. Feyenoord YouTube Channel.
“Now I’m in the gym a bit earlier and leaving later, to make sure these issues don’t show up. (Sports Scientists) Leigh (Egger), Tim (Janssen) and Ruben (Peeters) push me every day and I gain confidence doing five minutes of foam rolling, a 10 minute stretch or whatever I don’t do like – the ice bath. It’s the little things that give you five to 10 extra games per season.
Since bouncing back, he has gone on to enjoy the most consistent streak of senior playing time of his career, starting each of Feyenoord’s knockout ties in their run to the Europa Conference League final and playing regularly as Arne Slot’s side secured European football in the Eredivisie. . During that span, he demonstrated the end product of his game that has always made him such an exciting prospect, managing four goals and seven assists.
He has largely split his time in Holland between left wing and right wing, but more recently Slot has used him in the latter position. The Dutch coach uses Lutsharel Geertruida as a reverse right-back similar to how Takehiro Tomiyasu operates for Arsenal. This means that the focus is sometimes on Nelson to maintain the breadth of the squad, allowing him to show off his skills as an orthodox winger.
This is on full display in the clip below. Nelson receives the ball in transition in Feyenoord’s game with Fortuna Sittard and takes on former Norwich full-back Ivo Pinto. Instead of looking to drift down the field, he uses the pace to drive towards the secondary line.
Arrived there, he plays a low and accurate ball towards Geertruida, who has taken a central position in the box, and the Dutch defender shoots home.
Far from just doing it against lesser sides in the Eredivisie, Nelson has proven he can do it on the big stage as well. In the Europa Conference League final with Roma on Wednesday night, the England Under-21 international caused a lot of trouble for Nicola Zalewski by driving to the secondary line.
Far from being just an old-school winger, Nelson is also capable of cutting inside like modern forwards tend to do from wider areas. On the eve of half-time, he forced Feyenoord’s probably best chance of a cautious opening period by breaking through Roma’s block and unleashing a left-footed shot from the edge of the box that could well have cause trouble for Rio Patricio if Rick Karsdorp hadn’t crossed. brilliantly block.
This versatility in approach contrasts with the more predictable wingers in the Arsenal squad like Nicolas Pepe, and could be a useful addition for Arteta for next season. The Spaniard received briefings from loan manager Ben Knapper, who was present for the second leg of the Conference League semi-final with Marseille, and would surely also have noticed how Nelson’s defensive side of the game got worse. is improved in Holland.
The 22-year-old has always been an impressive presser, having spent time in Germany. This was proven by his winning goal against Liverpool in the Project Restart game at the Emirates Stadium. However, this year, with Feyenoord’s aggressive approach to regaining possession, he seems to have taken it to another level, managing 2.54 interceptions per 90 compared to 1.68 last season.
Feyenoord have been so impressed with Nelson’s performances that they would like to keep him beyond this season, but Hale Ender’s contract situation means that is unlikely. “In a final year of contract, they are no longer loaning players,” club technical director Frank Arnesen said. “Keeping Nelson is almost impossible for us.”
As a result, he is set to return to north London this summer, where, with just 12 months left on his contract, he finds himself at something of a career stalemate. Arsenal would be impressed with what Nelson has done in Holland, and with Pepe keen to leave this summer, the Hale Ender could still have a role to play for the Gunners.
He fell on the wrong side yet again by a healthy margin on Wednesday night as Jose Mourinho’s defensively inspired Roma side eventually edged Feyenoord 1-0 in Tirana. While it will take time to recover from this grief, Nelson can find comfort in the fact that the best may yet be yet to come.