Per Mertesacker believes Reiss Nelson’s early success in the Bundesliga proves that Arsenal can get the best out of football’s loan system but he maintains that the onus is on young players to take themselves out of their comfort zone.
Rather than spend the season at the Emirates fighting for the occasional game in the Europa League and domestic cup competitions, the 19-year-old opted to move to Hoffenheim for a year in the hope of gaining valuable first team experience and boosting his confidence.
Since landing in Germany, Nelson has been on fire, netting six goals and grabbing an assist in 10 appearances. His form has earned him his first call-ups to the England under-21 side and both Gareth Southgate and Unai Emery have touched on his potential and future prospects.
All in all, life is going well for the teenager, and that pleases Per.
“It was the best decision for him to go there,” Mertesacker, who now heads up the academy, told Arsenal.com.
“When you compare the Bundesliga to the Premier League, there are similarities but there are differences.
“At the moment the Bundesliga suits him, and he went to a club where they are used to bringing up young players, educating young players and giving young players a chance in their first team. He has a young coach who will educate him and give him an insight.
“So the loan system should work brilliantly for us. Some Bundesliga clubs are very interesting for us and the way he could make an impact at Hoffenheim was by starting on the bench but then scoring immediately. Through scoring those goals, he gained trust from the coach, from the fans, by learning some German and earning the right to start and make an impact.”
While Nelson decided to try his luck abroad, some of his pals decided to stick it out in London in the hope of turning Emery’s head. Emile Smith Rowe, netting three times, has grabbed his chances with both hands, while Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock have also built on last year’s first team experience. Our Europa League campaign has also brought new names to the fore with Zech Medley, Bukayo Saka, Charlie Gilmour all featuring against Vorskla.
As the January transfer window approaches, Mertesacker admits that the coaching staff are assessing whether more young players could benefit from a loan move.
“I think he [Nelson] has done a brilliant job but that all fell into place because he wanted to go,” he notes.
“He had a great opportunity but you need to take these opportunities and make sure you learn from those moments. Instead of being a first-team player between the under-23s and the first team, this is something different.
“It’s difficult to manage and I’m really pleased and glad that it’s worked right now for him. We have other prospects we really need to think about. What’s their best path towards making an impact for our first team? There are different ways, different challenges.
“Those are individuals. But I feel we are in a good place right now and those situations show us how big an impact a loan can make on a player. We need to select wisely.”