Nelson determined to take his chance at Arsenal as part of all-star Gunners attack
The teenager started for the Gunners at Newcastle on Sunday but faces big competition from the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe
Reiss Nelson is taking nothing for granted.
The 19-year-old, along with Joe Willock, was one of two English teenagers named in Unai Emery’s starting XI at Newcastle on Sunday for Arsenal’s opening game of the Premier League season. You have to go all the way back to 1998 to find the last time that happened.
The pair’s selection was an indication of how Emery is ready to trust in youth as his new look Arsenal takes shape, especially when you consider that Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Matteo Guendouzi also started at St James’ Park, while Gabriel Martinelli was introduced off the bench.
It was also reward for a fine pre-season from both, with the two academy products enjoying some fine showings while away in the United States and also during the games back in Europe against Angers and Barcelona.
For Nelson, this was always going to be a big summer. Having spent last season on loan at Hoffenheim in Germany, his plan was always to return and force his way into Emery’s thinking ahead of the new campaign,
The fact he started up in Newcastle shows he has done just that, but the winger knows full well that the hard work has only just started.
“I just want to take things as they come,” he said. “It felt great [to start]. It was a great gesture from the boss and I’m just happy to be playing back in Arsenal colours.
“I went away to Germany and I think I did well. But the main goal for me has always been playing in an Arsenal shirt.
“I know it’s not guaranteed I’m going to be starting week in, week out with the team-mates we have. I need to be prepared all the time for whenever I get the call-up.
“We have [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang, [Nicolas] Pepe, [Alexandre] Lacazette. They are great stars and I’m still only young so I need to sit back and when I get my chance, take it.”
Nelson found out he would be starting at St James’ Park on the Wednesday before the game, so he had plenty of time to prepare himself mentally for what was to come.
He lined up on the left of the attack, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the opposite side and Aubameyang leading the line.
It was Aubameyang who settled the contest, striking early in the second half to ensure Arsenal kicked off their campaign with a win, taking his tally in the Premier League to 33 goals in just 50 appearances.
“We’re so happy to have him,” said Nelson. “He’s been such a great addition [to Arsenal].
“He’s always scoring or creating goals but off the ball he’s also working very hard for the team and as a striker that really helps people like me and everyone else alongside him.”
Nelson added: “The win was our main target [at Newcastle]. To go out there and get the three points and we did that.
“We had to be compact as a team and play as a team, but when we got our chances we had to execute very well and we did that.
“We got the goal, after that it was hard but we kept our shape and played very well. Now bring on Burnley at the weekend.”
Sunday’s game on Tyneside saw new club-record signing Pepe handed his debut following his summer move from Lille.
Pepe replaced Nelson with 20 minutes remaining at St James’ Park as Emery continues to manage the Ivory Coast international’s integration into the team.
Arsenal’s head coach believes it could be several weeks before the 24-year-old is fully up to speed, but Nelson has already seen enough in training to be confident that Pepe will be a success.
“He’s settled in good and he looks a really good addition,” said the England Under-21 International. “We saw little glimpses at Newcastle on the pitch, you could see he has the flair we need on the right-hand side.
“He can cut inside and shoot. I think he will get a lot of goals for us and also assists. I’m happy to have him in the team. He’s a great addition.”
Pepe was one of six new arrivals at Arsenal during a summer that saw the club agree to pay out well in excess of £100 million ($121m) in transfer fees.
The fact that the bench at Newcastle contained Pepe, David Luiz, Lacazette, Dani Ceballos and Lucas Torreira shows the strength of depth at the club, especially when you consider Kieran Tierney, Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding are all out injured and both Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac were unavailable.
“I think this season can be very exciting for the Arsenal fans and for the team,” said Nelson.
“We have all the new additions and that can only help us in the long run.”
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