Emile Smith Rowe has shown Reiss Nelson the way to break into Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal team


As another training video emerges demonstrating the immense talent that Reiss Nelson possesses, it’s difficult not to feel some form of regret.

It’s been a frustrating season for the England Under-21 international, who would have had eyes on breaking into Mikel Arteta‘s first team, but instead finds himself back with the under-23s waiting for that stroke of luck that all young players need to make their senior level career really take off.

So far his career has been defined by a series of near misses and false starts.

First there was the game against Burnley at the beginning of last season which has since come to be remembered for Dani Ceballos‘ exciting home debut.

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After impressing at Hoffenheim, Nelson had been chosen by Unai Emery to start Arsenal’s early Premier League fixtures.

Having taken an early lead through Alexandre Lacazette the Gunners – who had been far from their best – found themselves pegged back by an Ashley Barnes strike just two minutes before half time.

Heading into the break it looked as though it was going to be a frustrating afternoon when suddenly Nacho Monreal burst into the box and cut it back to Nelson who fired into the roof of the net.

The Hale Ender wheeled away to celebrate in front of 60,000 fans at the Emirates. This was it, the moment that he would look back on in years to come as the time when his Arsenal career truly got going.

Sadly it was not to be.

Reiss Nelson’s goal for Arsenal against Burnley was ruled out for offside

As Nelson raced over to thank Monreal, the Spaniard put his hands to his head in devastation. Confused, the England Under-21 international turned around belatedly see the offside flag that had denied him his big moment in front of the Gunners fans.

He was subbed off for Nicolas Pepe at the break and wouldn’t start another Premier League game until Freddie Ljungberg took caretaker charge four months later.

As Mikel Arteta then took permanent charge in December 2019, Nelson found himself back in the side, again featuring in all five of the Spaniard’s opening five matches as Arsenal boss and even scoring the winner in the FA Cup third round against Leeds United.

However, just as he was building ahead of steam, a hamstring injury and the COVID-19-induced global stoppage of football meant that he would not be in the starting line-up for a league game again until July 2020.

Having been forced to write off much of the 2019/20 season, Nelson returned to London Colney for the following campaign determined to break through.

Ahead of him in the pecking order were young player of the year Bukayo Saka, top goal scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubaemyang, record signing Nicolas Pepe and new transfer Willian, and it was suggested to him by Arteta that first-team football could not be guaranteed. But the youngster still backed himself and chose to stay with Arsenal in pursuit of finally getting into the first team.

Against all the odds it seemed as though he may actually be about to do it when an impressive string of Europa League performances, combined with a loss of form of all the aforementioned players except for Saka, saw him involved in the 0-0 draw away to Leeds.

Unfortunately though, injury would again rob him of the chance to kick on and argue his case to be in the senior side on a regular basis.

Speaking after that latest setback Arteta bemoaned the misfortune of his prodigious young winger.

“Yeah, he had a little niggle and he’s not been feeling 100 per cent. He had a muscular issue and he’s been in and out of training,” he said in December.

“He’s not 100 per cent and it’s a shame because I felt like he was getting into his performance levels and he was starting to have some really good games.

“He was starting to build that momentum and this little injury has set him back a little bit, but I think this week has been much better.”

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta talks to Reiss Nelson. (Image: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

That latest blow looks to have been the most severe one Nelson has had to come back from, and midway through his second attempt at a breakthrough season, the 21-year-old finds himself further away from the first team than ever before having failed to make a Premier League squad since November last year.

At this point it would be easy to mark his Arsenal career as pretty much over, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

Nelson’s fellow Hale Ender Emile Smith Rowe found himself in a similar predicament midway through last season.

After impressing in pre-season during Unai Emery’s first season in charge he seemed hell-bent against the idea of making a temporary move elsewhere to find his feet at first-team level.

However, after being given a taste of senior level action in the Carabao Cup and Europa League group stages, he changed his mind and opted to move out to the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig.

Like Nelson, Smith Rowe’s career after that point was heavily disrupted by injuries, with a hip problem keeping him out for a year just as it seemed as though he was going to burst onto the biggest stage.

After starting Freddie Ljungberg’s final game at Everton the then 19-year-old found himself back with the under-23s once Arteta took over.

His career seemed to be following a similar path to what Nelson’s is now, but it was at this point that Smith Rowe made a crucial decision that would change that.

Emile Smith Rowe during his loan spell at Huddersfield. (Photo by John Early/Getty Images)
Emile Smith Rowe during his loan spell at Huddersfield. (Photo by John Early/Getty Images)

Realising he wasn’t going to get game time the youngster took the decision to make a move on loan to Championship side Huddersfield Town in order to recover himself to full fitness and establish some confidence at senior level.

Now a crucial part of the first-team set up at the Emirates, Smith Rowe himself has admitted that the move was transformative for him in his career.

“I have been a bit unfortunate with injuries but the manager has given me a chance,” he said after a standout display against Newcastle at the beginning of January.

“I am so grateful and I just want to repay him. Any chance I have I want to show I am good enough.

“I’ve been abroad and in the Championship and it has developed me so much off the pitch. I feel like I have matured as a person and it’s helped me in my journey.”

With this season now more or less a write-off, Nelson should look to next season as a vital chance to go out on loan and prove what he can offer Arteta and the Arsenal first team.

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Reports suggest he tried to do this in January, but with the right offer not forthcoming his fate was to ultimately end up staying.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the Championship like Smith Rowe’s was, but a loan spell somewhere where he is going to get regular first-team football is crucial for the young winger next season.

His Arsenal career is far from over. In fact, with a good move, next season could be the time when it finally begins.





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