Nicolas Pépé is coming to Arsenal. He is apparently having is medical in London today and barring any setbacks should be unveiled on Thursday or Friday. Arsenal finally have their man and are making a considerable statement in the process. While the Ivorian winger will inject some boost to an already attacking team, one man who was hoping to see a bump in first team appearances may be resigned to fighting even harder for the minutes he believes he deserves. That man is Reiss Nelson, and while the lost minutes will surely frustrate the 19 year old, the Nicolas Pépé move could prove pivotal for his future development and importance to the club.
Reiss Nelson spent the 2018/19 campaign on loan with Bundesliga side, Hoffenheim. He was able to spend time under the young and exciting manager Julian Nagelsmann, who has since moved to RB Leipzig. The season spent in the Bundesliga was unfortunately up and down. In the the first few months of the season, Nelson managed six goals and one assist through nine games. He was primarily employed as a winger on both flanks with the occasional nod at the attacking midfield position. He ultimately cooled down and suffered from injuries including thigh and back problems stymieing any sort of consistency. Yet, for all intents and purposes, Nelson looked as though he had done enough to convince Unai Emery that he could play a part in the Arsenal squad.
The Englishman’s technical ability, pace, and vision were among his strongest attributes that could have proved to be influential on the right side of the pitch for the Gunners. Last season, Emery was forced to employ a number of make shift right wingers, including Henrik Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey, whenever the Spaniard utilized a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation, which Emery generally prefers. Ramsey is an adept wide player but his strength was found in the middle of the pitch where he could push forward in attack. Mkhitaryan has never been able to find his stride with the Arsenal squad, always looking out of place in those formations. He does not possess blistering pace and his confidence seemed lacking. Considering Arsenal’s supposed dearth of transfer funds, Nelson looked like the perfect player to slot in to the right wide role, which would allow Unai Emery to play his preferred formations.
Arsenal have made some rather surprising news in the transfer market over the past week. As if it came out of nowhere, Arsenal are now on the verge of signing Lille’s prodigious winger Nicolas Pépé for a reported fee of close to $87m (£72m). Pépé took France’s Ligue 1 last season with 22 goals and 11 assists in 38 matches for LOSC Lille en route to their second place finish. He possesses all of the qualities found in Nelson’s game with the important addition of finishing quality. Yes, eight of the twenty-two goals came from the penalty spot for Pépé, but, if anything, this should represent the confidence that Lille manager Christophe Galtier has in the Ivorian.
In fact, Tifo Football released an extremely interesting, and perhaps bit foreshadowing, video on how Pépé would fit in with the Gunners back in May. The video pointed out that the 24 year old would need to adapt to a decreased emphasis on counter-attacking and increase his presence in the high pressure tactics employed by Emery. Ultimately, however, he could thrive in the creativity that Emery still offers his attacking players, which will certainly suit Pépé qualities.
So how exactly does the presence of an extremely gifted player who is five years Nelson’s senior help the young Englishman? Well, first off, that the Gunners have been rumored with signing a wide player for quite some time this summer. Reiss Nelson would have undoubtedly seen a move like such materializing. Arsenal were linked with Wilfried Zaha for most of June and July. Prior to that, Pépé was actually linked with the Gunners, as noted by Tifo’s video. Nelson would not have expected to just waltz into Emery’s first team.
Arsenal are on a mission to return to the Champions League and the best way to achieve that is through experienced, talented, and confident players in the starting eleven. Nelson’s game encompasses the latter two and with the time the first as well. Yet, the other quality any good Premier League squad desperately needs is depth and Arsenal lacked players of influential quality on the bench throughout last season. Nelson immediately fills that gapping slot. He will be afforded the opportunities to make impacts off the bench when Arsenal are in need of an invigorating presence.
Nelson will also be free from the intense scrutiny that would come with him being Arsenal’s only true wide player on the right side. That pressure will now be unenviably shifted to Pépé. Pressure is a main component in spurring on a player to perform at his best week in and week out, but for some that pressure can become a debilitating hindrance, especially when that player is still improving at a young age. Nelson will also be hoping to learn quite a bit from Pépé as a player and can aid in Nelson confidence in front of goal.
Reiss Nelson should still be considered the future for Arsenal. At only 19 years of age there is plenty of time for him to get better, and accounting for just how good the young Englishman is, the prospect of him improving at Arsenal is truly exciting. He may be a tad frustrated that Pépé’s arrival will eat into his minutes, but Nelson can easily supplant Mkhitaryan as the backup wide player in the 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation. The future is getting bright for Arsenal’s promising player and if the preseason is any indication, Nelson may be an important figure for the Gunners push towards a return to the Champions League.