Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta: Reiss Nelson has potential to go far if he challenges himself  
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06: Reiss Nelson of Arsenal celebrates scoring the opening goal during the FA Cup Third Round match between Arsenal and Leeds United at Emirates Stadium on January 6, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Sometimes it’s what is left unsaid that is more important.

It certainly was the case this week with Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta discussing Reiss Nelson ahead of hosting Sheffield United at the Emirates on Saturday afternoon, the rare 3pm kick-off as archaic as it is unusual. 

Arteta had been busy fielding questions on the 20-year-old Nelson, who has frustrated and flattered in equal measure over the last couple of years.

Arteta backs Nelson for the top as striker 'clears his vision'

From Arsene Wenger handing him a professional contract on his 17th birthday in December 2016 to appearing at Wembley as a callow teenager, making his first competitive start for the Gunners in the Community Shield victory over Chelsea half a year later in the summer of 2017, Nelson always gave the impression of a gilded young gun fast-tracked for the first team. 

A month after the victory over the Blues on penalties he replaced Theo Walcott to make his bow against Cologne in the Europa League. That was only days before his first start in the League Cup against Doncaster Rovers. More was to follow, for as a raw 18-year-old in January 2018 he made his Premier League debut against Crystal Palace

So far, so good, as Arteta recounted. 

“I know Reiss because I coached him when he was 16,” Arteta explained, adding:  “Straightaway he caught my eye. 

“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 that 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 trust him because he wants it and I think he can deliver.”

Yet, Nelson, who spent last season on loan to Bundesliga side Hoffenheim - making 24 appearances and scoring seven goals in a year truncated by injury and loss of form - simply cannot be described as a hot young prospect any more, nor a promising youngster, or one for the future.

His time should be now. However, the note of reticence in Arteta’s voice, and his less than effusive response laced with qualifiers, raised far more questions than answers.

The talented but inconsistent attacker who hails from Elephant and Castle can no longer hide under the young tyro tag.

But why? Arteta explains.

“Because he was that good when he was young that everything was too easy for him," he says.

“Then to make the step from a high level it is a big step and if you haven't exposed yourself down here, to do it the next day up there doesn't happen.

“You have a lot of habits and those habits have to be taken away and replaced with new ones and he has done that very quickly, much quicker than I thought and that is why he has been playing.”

Are we talking about poor lifestyle choices, a lack of buckling down and working hard, making sacrifices others his age simply eschew in the form of socialising?

Reiss Nelson has been "confused"

After all, Nelson wouldn’t be the first young footballer to be seduced by bright lights, fame and hangers on, all after their own piece of stardust from an Arsenal footballer who has already featured for England U21s.

Arteta continues, saying: “I think we were all confused at some stage in our careers.

“Even when you do that well and people talk about you, you tend to relax and then you see the picture as a little bit dirty.

“I think his picture now is very clear, what he wants, want we want from him and I trust him.”

With a raft of injuries and suspensions depleting Arsenal during the January transfer window, a loan deal was not an option. 

Arteta insists Nelson has to take more responsibility and by definition, that means staying at the north London giants and staking a first-team claim.

If Nelson takes on board exactly what his boss is telling him, then he can be a genuine force in the top flight of English football.

Nelson can go to the top - Arteta

Just how far Nelson can go is up to him, Arteta says. He should know, as the progressive 37-year-old head coach has been widely credited with playing a large role in the rise of another working-class Londoner, Raheem Sterling.

Could Nelson be compared to Manchester City’s Sterling one day?

“I wouldn't like to compare,” Arteta says diplomatically. 

“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.

“At the moment I think he is on the right path, with the right attitude and then there are a lot of factors, he needs to deal with pressure, deliver every three days, score more goals and make the difference more for the team because he has the quality to do that.”

With the highly-rated Arteta in charge, Nelson has the best chance to succeed. 

Not least because his ruthless boss simply won’t accept such underachievement any longer. 

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