Transfer deadline day: Why Reiss Nelson is the intruder in Arsenal’s young gun loan exodus
As Joe Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles packed their bags and headed north, Reiss Nelson found himself holding the fort at London Colney with the loan move that seems so crucial to his development at Arsenal having never not materialized before the January transfer window closes. As of this writing, with less than two hours left for clubs to do business, it would take a remarkable chain of events for the young winger to secure a temporary home for the second half of the season.
Interest was there in Nelson’s services. Two La Liga sides – Valencia and Villarreal – were in the mix this weekend while the youngster’s achievements during a previous loan spell in Germany meant that several Bundesliga clubs saw him as an option, among them Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim, where he spent the 2018-19 season. This interest is not supposed to have translated into anything concrete. Large loan fees and Arsenal’s requirement that any lending club pay at least half of their salary helped cool foreign interests as there were doubts whether the player would be better off served in the championship.
That leaves his best chance for regular playing time to be a chance at Arsenal, where he even struggled to bench. There have long been great expectations placed on the winger’s shoulders, he was considered the star of his academy age group and even caught the eye of Mikel Arteta when the current manager (at at the time, the club captain was on the sidelines due to injury) was taking his first steps. in training with youth teams.
“I know Reiss because I coached him when he was 16 and he immediately caught my attention,” Arteta said last year. “If he wants to do it, wants to learn and to challenge himself, he can be a top player for this football club.”
Nelson then burst into the first team at Emirates Stadium in September 2017, the vanguard of the youth movement that has propelled Arteta’s team to such success in recent months. But while Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have managed to establish themselves as foundational pieces of Arsenal’s strongest squad, the 21-year-old who led the way has found opportunities rather hard to come by.
In total this season, Nelson has made just nine appearances for Arteta’s side and has only been involved in two Premier League match teams, coming off the bench in November’s games against Leeds United and Wolverhampton Wanderers. . With Martin Odegaard having joined the Europa League – often reserved for youngsters in the group stage – perhaps their best chance of qualifying in the Champions League, playing time is unlikely to be more consistent over the next few months.
Arsenal are not yet ready to take advantage of an England Under-21 international but were certainly aware that his development would not be served well by at least training sessions and these were looking to loan him in the last days of the transfer window.
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It should be noted that this was not always the plan and that Nelson and his representatives did not have all the month to find new accommodation. Although it was recognized before the start of this month that it was better for him to have regular playing time, the club initially indicated that they would not let him go, even temporarily. It would only take a few injuries on their front line for the youngster to see more minutes.
Signing Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli’s successful return to fitness allayed those fears within Arsenal, but the late breakthrough in the search for a new creative midfielder left little time to secure a deal for Nelson. There was interest in his services, including in the Championship, where Smith Rowe excelled with Huddersfield last season.
However, sources told CBS Sports that Tier 2 wasn’t necessarily Nelson’s top loan destination choice. The young winger rejected the possibility of joining Leeds United last season and no club has come close to changing their position this month.
While Nelson stays put, others who broke into the team at the same time are spreading their wings elsewhere. Maitland-Niles was the subject of a standoff between four clubs before Southampton withdrew and cleared the road for West Bromwich Albion. Willock is bound for Newcastle United where he will expect regular Premier League starts which he struggled to find at Arsenal.
For all three, this month was a milestone in their careers in North London. Two believe their best route in Arsenal’s first team is to walk away for a while – and it’s worth noting that neither West Brom nor Newcastle will have buy options in their loan deals, this which indicates that the Gunners are not necessarily determined to part ways with Maitland-Niles and Willock – while Nelson will know he will need luck to find his way if he is to have the chance to prove that the initial vision d ‘Arteta about her was correct.