What better way to prepare for the upcoming Premier League season than talking about players who won’t be playing in it?
As the preseason comes to an end, we’re taking a quick look at Arsenal’s standout youth players. We’ll consider their individual performances, rating them on a 1-10 scale based on what we think their chances are of breaking into the first team this year.
Reiss Nelson, Number 61, Age 17
Allow me to gush for a moment.
At age 17, Reiss Nelson is already good enough to play first-team football. In the preseason, he was not only our best youth player, but our best player period. With a combination of pace, technical proficiency, and an unceasing work ethic, he looks to be a complete wing-back in Wenger’s 3-4-3 formation—though according to the Manager, he can play any position in the attack. He’s a well-rounded playmaker with cleaver passing, creative dribbling, and a desire to run at opposing players and stretch the field whenever possible. He creates tons of space with his movement and runs. Against Benfica, he proved that his dribbling is not only purposeful, but also productive. The kid was a menace running at defenders creating chance after chance, tormenting left-back Eliseu. If you didn’t know better, you’d think Eliseu was the youth player and Nelson the international.
Don’t get me wrong, Nelson has a long way to go. His crosses tend to be aimless (his assist to Giroud was an exception). He’s often caught out of position on defense, He still takes too many touches on the ball and he’s slow to make simple passes, though, a game or two in the Premier League should break that habit.
Expect him to get lots of playing time in the Europa League and the League Cup, and don’t be surprised if he’s regular substitute in the Prem.
Nelson had the best preseason of any Arsenal team member, and he is still 4 months away from age 18. Nelson playing in the right wing-back position seemed to impress Wenger and displayed his versatility. Reiss normally plays in the attacking midfield position for the youth teams, but he looked very comfortable at a change of position. His strongest traits appear to be his blistering pace and superb dribbling skills. Wenger mentioned to Arsenal TV that Nelson "likes to have the ball at his feet and provokes opponents [by passing them]". Reiss gave Eliseu a reason to worry about his place in a starting XI as he shook the poor defender back to Portugal more than a few times at the Emirates. He played well against Benfica, Sydney, and Bayern's first team players, including giving a timeless Ribery a few physical tackles to remember in Beijing.
While Wenger mentions that he has been impressed this preseason, there is room for improvement for the young midfielder, wing-back, or wherever you may want to label him. His crosses can be improved, especially in their accuracy. His assist to Giroud in the Benfica Emirates Cup match was sublime, but he had trouble finding bodies in the box most of the summer tour. A moment that sticks out is a dead ball against Bayern where the young starlet missed all the bodies in the middle of Bayern's 18. Wenger additionally believes that his skill is there but that his defensive responsibilities can be improved upon.
You can draw similarities to Oxlade-Chamberlain, a utility starter that can play 8 positions on the field. That being said, his normal position in the attacking midfield on the youth team may need to be adjusted to translate his abilities to the first team. His tendency to run forward creates a lot of wide space on the defensive side of Arsenal against the better sides. His defensive skills will come with a few appearances with the first team where he can further develop his identity in the Arsenal side. Look for Reiss to feature in the (sigh) Europa League. Nelson’s appearance in the Community Shield tells me that we may even see this wonder in the Premier League.
We also felt it necessary to include this somewhere in the article: