Reiss Nelson, Arsenal’s unlikely hero, is proving Mikel Arteta right

Star: Reiss Nelson  (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Star: Reiss Nelson (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Arsenal went into this game against Nottingham Forest looking for three points to steady the ship, but no one would have predicted Reiss Nelson would be the man to fire them to victory.

Before today, the winger had not scored in the Premier League for Arsenal since July 2020 and he spent last season on loan at Feyenoord.

Nelson ended that run here against Nottingham Forest, a wait of 837 days, with a Premier League goal. Three minutes later, he had a second.

It was all part of a thumping 5-0 victory for Arsenal, who responded in style to their defeat at PSV Eindhoven on Thursday.

After that loss in Holland, there had been a few nerves among supporters arriving at Emirates Stadium today, with many wary of how their side had looked tired in recent weeks.

There was none of that on show against Forest, though, as Arsenal came out of the blocks flying and opened the scoring inside four minutes. Gabriel Martinelli found Bukayo Saka with a pass and then he got on the end of the winger’s cross to head home.

Arsenal struggled to kick on from there and, when Saka limped off around the half-hour mark, there was a sense they could stumble again.

Nelson, however, made sure they didn’t with one of the most unlikely match-winning performances of the season.

First the 22-year-old finished off a slick move when his shot was saved and then he flicked home Gabriel Jesus’ cross to make it 3-0. To top it off, he teed up Thomas Partey to smash the ball into the top corner.

All that came in the space of eight second-half minutes, with Martin Odegaard adding a fifth late on, and it killed a game that had previously been threatening to hang in the balance.

 (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
(Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Nelson’s Arsenal career had looked dead and buried in the summer when he returned from Feyenoord, but the Gunners decided to keep him at the club.

Manager Mikel Arteta knows Nelson well, having coached him when he was doing his badges, and when he was first hired he spoke glowingly about the winger.

“He was that good when he was young that everything was too easy for him,” said Arteta in January 2020. “I think he has the potential to do whatever he wants.”

Arteta continued that rhetoric this season, insisting before the Gunners began their Europa League campaign that Nelson could have a role to play - and even a long-term future at the club.

“Yeah, 100 per cent,” said Arteta, when asked by Standard Sport if Nelson could sign a new deal instead of leaving for free next summer. “That is why he is here, because we want to have that opportunity with him.

“He was willing to take that opportunity and again it’s down to him to show it now on the pitch. We think the potential is there and we think we’ve seen something in Reiss that is special.”

Time will tell if this performance against Forest was the start of a renaissance for Nelson, or a flash in the pan.