Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Reiss Nelson: Stick or twist?

Morning all, a quick Thursday blog for you.

Let’s start with a report that Arsenal have opened talks with the agents of Reiss Nelson to discuss new terms for the 23 year old winger. I just have to think about his name and I get goosebumps over the Bournemouth goal, and whatever happens with him and in the rest of this season, he’ll always be remembered for one of the most incredible moments at the new stadium.

I can see why Arsenal might want to hold onto him. He’s still pretty young, he’s a Hale End graduate and, crucially, he could leave on a free in the summer, so the outlay on retaining him may well be turned into profit down the line. For a club which hasn’t sold well in recent years, maximising the return on players needs to be something we think about. Although he hasn’t played a great deal this season, he has definitely contributed. There’s the aforementioned Bournemouth goal, of course, and let’s not forget that he came on when Bukayo Saka got injured against Nottingham Forest, and scored twice.

In 102 Premier League minutes, he has three goals and two assists to his name. That, in terms of minutes per goal contribution, is pretty outstanding. In truth, it’s probably something of an outlier in terms of performance, but you can’t argue with the numbers. Arsenal could, if he’s open to it, probably sign him on a four year deal for relatively low wages, and he’s somebody who can provide you with depth/cover for Saka, and also on the left hand side where we’ve seen him deployed. Even if it doesn’t go that well, chances are he’s a player we could sell pretty easily for relatively decent money in 12 months time.

But – and there’s always a but, isn’t there? – what does Reiss Nelson want? 23 is still young, but when you look at his career, he’s seen quite a bit of it slip away already. Which isn’t to say it’s his fault, he’s been really unlucky with injuries, but his decision to stay and fight for a place a couple of years ago rather than go on loan and develop as a player might be a source of regret now.

To put it in context, if the 102 minutes this season doesn’t tell its own story despite what he has delivered, having made his debut in 2017, he has made just 59 appearances in all competitions – and played just 961 minutes of Premier League football. I know they’re not the same player, but 21 year Bukayo Saka has played 10 times that amount in his relatively short Arsenal career to date (9,752 minutes), and more than double that this season alone. Nelson did have loan spells at Hoffenheim in 2018-19, and Feyenoord last season, but when it comes to Arsenal he has been peripheral. He hasn’t started a Premier League game all season, and that must surely be a consideration for him.

On the right, Saka starts every game when he’s fit, and we saw that when he didn’t on Saturday against Leeds, it was Leandro Trossard who got the nod. On the left there’s Trossard again, Gabriel Martinelli and potentially Emile Smith Rowe to contend with. Yes, we will need a deep squad next season for the Premier League, Champions League and the cups, but how much will he play in the games that really matter?

The fact he’s an Arsenal lad who has grown up at the club, and the chance to be part of this exciting project, must make renewing very appealing even if he is going to be a bit-part player. Back in November, he said:

I have been here for so long and I’m very comfortable here. I am an Arsenal fan and, of course, I want to sign a new contract at the club. I am just going to be ready for anything I get now and give my all for the team.

That said, what he’s done this season and the fact he’s out of contract in the summer, will certainly have put him on the radar of clubs who could probably offer him more regular Premier League football – not to mention the financial bonus that comes with a free transfer. Being comfortable is great, but maybe there comes a time when you need to challenge yourself, take a bit of a risk – if you would even call it that.

So, it’ll be interesting to see what happens. Mikel Arteta has talked consistently about the need to raise the level of the squad, so any offer to Nelson will be made with that in mind, and I think the manager has done enough to earn our trust when it comes to these kind of decisions. The question is whether Nelson himself feels that Arsenal is the right place to be in these next few years. We’ll see.

Right, I’ll leave it there for now. Back tomorrow with more and a brand new Arsecast. Until then.

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