The Emirates Cup – despite holding what some would consider a flawed point scoring system – has many benefits as a pre season competition.
First is of course the added revenue it brings to all the clubs involved; mainly through the expansion of the associated brands across a greater worldwide audience, at a time where high quality football is in top demand.
Then there is the benefit from the fans perspective of being able to watch not one, but two games a day across a weekend which involves some of the biggest names in World football; Real Madrid, PSG, Juventus, New York Red Bulls and both Milan sides to name a few. But the final benefit is possibly the most critical of all when it comes to a side’s preparation for the new season; ultimately the overriding purpose of the Emirates Cup.
Over the nine years this tournament has taken place, Arsenal in particular have used it to browse their wealth of talented academy products.
Some of the success stories from previous years include Kieran Gibbs in 2007, Aaron Ramsey in 2008, Serge Gnabry in 2013, Alex Iwobi in 2015 and of course Jack Wilshere in 2009. This year was no different as another Arsenal youngster took the spotlight; 17-year-old midfielder Reiss Nelson.
Nelson’s Pre Season So Far
His starring role in Arsenal’s 5-2 Emirates Cup win over Benfica last weekend typified the pre season he has had this year. Nelson grabbed an assist and with it many of the plaudits from the game as he more than staked a claim for a starting spot in the Gunners’ first team going forward. Following the game Portuguese publication Mais Futebol went as far as saying the Arsenal youngster was “one of the next great footballers in the world.”
His mixture of pace and power, combined with a lot of skill, from a wingback role in Arsenal’s 3-4-3 formation has already impressed Arsene Wenger ahead of the new season.
“Since I’ve been in the game I’ve understood that you either have that [confidence] at 17 years of age or you don’t. They just think ‘let’s play’, and Reiss behaves like that.”
This confidence was clear to see during Arsenal’s games out in Sydney; Nelson was an active part of the Gunners’ ability – against both Sydney Wanderers and FC – to play out from the back, providing pace as he bombed forward.
His first big test in an Arsenal shirt came against Bayern in China a week later and once again he passed with flying colours. Wenger once again noted his self confidence despite going up against the German champions: “He’s shown he can go past people. He’s not fazed.” Arsenal’s next game provided very little in terms of positives as they fell to a 3-0 defeat against Chelsea.
But it was Nelson once again that provided a faint port in the storm for Wenger’s side; the attacking defender was rated eight out of ten for his performance by The Daily Star in a team which averaged just over a five.
Nelson’s Next Move
So where do these kind of pre season performances leave the Elephant and Castle youngster when deciding his future?
Following such an impressive introduction to the side, many fans are calling for him to be introduced into the Arsenal first team set up.
One fan even went as far as saying Nelson was the “future of Arsenal” in a tweet following his Emirates Cup exploits.
Another took to social media to show their faith in the England Under 18s international: “I think he has the self confidence and belief to succeed.”
Of course this season provides Nelson with a unique opportunity to remain a crucial part of the first team as Wenger has already stated his intentions to play youngsters during the Europa League games.
This provides the youngster with the perfect platform to make an name for himself both in England and across Europe, as well as creating a selection dilemma for his manager ahead of Premier League games through good performances. As for the league itself many feel the youngster will struggle to get into the Arsenal side ahead of the likes of new signing Sead Kolasinac, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Hector Bellerin; all of whom have flourished recently in the wing-back role.
Nelson made his name playing as an attacking midfielder for the Arsenal Academy, but also faces an uphill battle if he is to throw the likes of Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez off of their throne. Arsenal legend Perry Groves holds a differing view, however, on how Reiss Nelson will be best nurtured by the Gunners in a bid to emulate the likes of Jack Wilshere and Wojciech Szczesny.
“He needs to move out on loan and get real game experience, not under-21 games,” the former Arsenal man told The Evening Standard. “Jack Wilshere was a great example of this when he went to Bolton.
“I would like to see Reiss go somewhere that plays a similar style to Arsenal, such as MK Dons who have a nice reputation of playing a good brand of football.”
The 17-year-old is facing a defining summer, with choices that may make or break his career. It’s up to the both the player and Arsene Wenger to decide which is the best path to take for both the youngster and the team.