With two goals and an assist from the bench against Nottingham Forest, Reiss Nelson showed Mikel Arteta has put Arsenal in a sweet spot few teams experience.
Manchester City’s strength in depth and the North Londoners’ fragility will be toiling away at the Gunners’ title chances. While Pep Guardiola has five excellent centre-backs, Arsenal have three. Not Phil Foden? This is Jack Grealish. Calvin Phillips injured? No problem.
It was a warning to Arsenal’s brilliant start: one or two key injuries and they could be fighting their way back to the top four rather than the title. Even without the absence, the 1st XI will be hard-pressed to maintain their level without significant support.
Then came Nelson. Arsenal fans will have to fear the worst as Bokayo Saka was forced off at the weekend. Not for what was to come against Jungle, who they would have beaten with an arm around their waist, but for the World Cup lead and beyond.
After years of Premier League mediocrity, despite the growing positivity at the Emirates, many Arsenal fans will be waiting for the moment to derail their season and, with Saka, perhaps their title shot. Dreams are shattered.
Nelson was the great hope of his Academy generation, even more so than perhaps the man he replaced. But after a year with Schalke in the Bundesliga and another with Feyenoord in the Eredivisie, separated by two seasons at Arsenal during which he made just seven Premier League starts, it felt that Nelson Alex Iwobi and Joe Wilk will go on the path of Compared to Saka
It was a beautiful moment for the wide player to get the chance and take it, as it always does when a young player comes up through the ranks at his boyhood club. And her fight to get there makes the moment all the sweeter.
But the opportunity he took is as much about Lina Arteta and the environment he has created at Arsenal as the ability of Nelson himself.
It’s not easy to build a team good enough to challenge Manchester City, but it’s even harder to make sense of a team where players – even if they’re replacing them – are seen as significantly degraded. – can come in and thrive. To the point where the absence is not so much missed.
City’s comparison isn’t great because many of those substitutes are world-class internationals and that team generally changes a lot more. But Leicester City’s title-winning side relied on Andy King to start their nine Premier League games. Jarvis made 14 appearances and was a member of Chelsea’s first title unbeaten run under Jose Mourinho.
It’s unfair to compare Nelson to Jarvis and King – he’s still a young player and could be a key part of Arsenal’s success for years to come. This is not done to make comparisons but to illustrate what Arteta and his staff’s hard-working tactics and manly management must be in order to replace any member of the squad in their position or positions. Granted, it doesn’t matter who they are or who they’re replacing, without a big difference in the team.
‘It was only Nottingham Forest!’ Critics cringe, but ask them if Nelson would have had an immediate impact at Spurs, Chelsea, Manchester United or Liverpool now and they’ll probably say something about Arteta being a bit of a nuisance and concede defeat.
The World Cup may be coming at the wrong time for Arsenal, who are currently in a sweet spot led by Arteta and perfectly executed by Reiss Nelson.