The three ways Mikel Arteta can mould Reiss Nelson into his Arsenal plans after injury return

Reiss Nelson will be available for selection after the winter break having recovered from the hamstring injury he sustained in January.

How he fits into the side as Mikel Arteta tries to fully utilise his squad in the business end of the season will be interesting, however. At different points in the season he has looked ready to kick on but injuries have held the 20-year-old back.

Since becoming Arsenal head coach, the 37-year-old has shown faith in Nelson and there’s no reason be won’t again. Having coached him while in the Arsenal youth setup, Arteta knew he could rely on Nelson and started him in three of his first four games in charge.

“I know Reiss because I coached him when he was 16 and straightaway he caught my eye,” Arteta said in January.

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“He is a boy that is willing to learn and loves the game but I think he has been a little bit confused in the last few years – what direction he had to take, some of the decisions that he made.

“Now I can see that he really wants it and I think he has the potential to do whatever he wants. He needs guidance, he needs a little bit of a stick, and he’s up for it. I put him to play and I trust him because he wants it and I think he can deliver.”

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Arteta began by using the winger off the right (ahead of Nicolas Pepe) but his last start may be more telling for where he may play Nelson. Against Leeds United in the FA Cup, he played off the left in the role that has been somewhat mastered by both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Gabriel Martinelli (being a left winger on paper but drifting inside to either finish attacks or assist the left-back).

In that game against Leeds, Nelson lived up to Arteta’s demands by scoring but also in his general play. Specifically looking at his goal, he held his width well as the far-side winger before edging in undetected to score, similar to how Pepe did against Manchester United. 

Alongside this, he made four dribbles, three tackles and one key pass, capping off a well-rounded 66 minute display. Comparing this to how he was used off the right, he was more effective.

When playing ahead of Pepe, Nelson still played well but was used in a more direct fashion. Rather than constantly drifting off his wing, he’d stay wide more often. This especially worked well against Chesea in December. As they started with a back three, he was able to slip round the outside of Fikayo Tomori. One time he did this he laid the ball across to Aubameyang for what should have been a goal but the club captain passed to Alexandre Lacazette who was crowded out.

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Like when he was on the left, however, Nelson’s biggest contribution came near the centre of the pitch. A deflected left-footed strike from the edge of the box landed at Aubameyang’s feet and he was able…