Reiss Nelson admits he needed to be convinced there was a place for him at Arsenal before he signed a new contract with the club.
Having had limited game time at the club since signing his previous deal in 2018 – the 23-year-old’s total time on the pitch as a Gunner still doesn’t amount to a full season’s worth – it was widely assumed he’d depart as a free agent at the end of June.
Instead, buoyed by what they’d seen from the winger across several cameo appearances last season, the Gunners, led by manager Mikel Arteta, pulled out all the stops to get him to stay even though Bukayo Saka sits ahead of him in the pecking order.
In an interview with ESPN, Nelson admitted he needed to be persuaded to put pen to paper.
“Yeah, because I feel like I’m at a stage now of my career where football is important to me. Of course, with Arsenal, it’s the team I love and the team I’ve been at since I was like eight years old. There comes a time where you think about also playing football as well.
“I spoke with Mikel quite a lot of times and he kind of explained the route that he sees for me and the transition that he’s seen in me from previous years to now. We had a good conversation and that changed my mind and I signed.”
“I feel like I took my chances when my chances were there [last season]. I feel as a player, sometimes you’re just constantly just waiting, waiting, waiting, and then when you get your chance, you might not be ready for your chance, you know, but I thought I was working in the back with a lot of the guys, a lot of the guys were training quite hard with me as well, and I think when I got opportunities to play, I kind of showed what I can do in the minutes that I got.”
Indeed he did. Nelson not only scored a brace against Nottingham Forest as a second half substitute, he also inspired the Gunners to a 3-2 comeback victory over Bournemouth with an assist and last-gasp winner. He was later voted the Premier League’s Gamechanger of the Season for 2023/24.
Reflecting on how Arteta motivated him just prior to being sent on against the Cherries, he said: “I felt like in that moment he saw the left-hand side was open for me to use my attributes, and he just told me, ‘I want you to, every time you get the ball, get at your man. I don’t care if you lose it, just keep using the ball.’
“Some managers say, play it safe and stuff like that, but he wants you to take the risk. We talk about risk for reward and I felt like a lot of the time for him, if the reward’s high, you go for it. At that time, we were losing, so it benefited us.”
Asked what his targets are for the new season and whether those types of discussions have happened with the club, Nelson raised the issue of staying fit. Unfortunately, having missed a couple of weeks of pre-season, it looks like he’s already a doubt for Saturday’s season opener with Nottingham Forest.
“I spoke with the boss about it [setting targets]. I said, look, like for me, this season I want to kind of set in stone some things that I need to hit. We spoke about that, he said, ‘This is what I think you need to work on’. I said, ‘I feel like I need to work on this’.
“We came to a conclusion and we sit down and we kind of go through the things I need to work on and hit targets, you know. But for me, it’s just about being available. Like I said, injuries is one of the ones where I missed 17 games last season. So it’s not one of the ones where I want to be missing any games for any niggles and stuff like that. I want to be available and help the team.”