Sunday, 15 September 2019

Lacazette out, Nelson in! Opportunity knocks for Arsenal young gun

The news that Alexandre Lacazette will not play again until next month due to the ankle injury he has been nursing since pre-season has certainly come as a blow to Arsenal.

Lacazette may not be as prolific as his great mate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but the France striker is arguably the more important of the two, simply because of what he brings to the team.

He was the Gunners' Player of the Year last season despite Aubameyang ending the campaign with the Premier League golden boot and 31 goals in all competitions.

Even summer signing from Real Madrid, Dani Ceballos, has been impressed.

"Lacazette is the best player for me,” said the midfielder. “He understands the game perfectly and if he's 100 per cent, he will give us so much.”

So the fact Arsenal will now be without their striker until some point in October is a major blow, especially when you consider they make the trip to Old Trafford on September 30.

But one man’s disappointment is another’s chance. And opportunity now knocks for Reiss Nelson.

There are seven games in all competitions before the next international break, which begins after Bournemouth visit the Emirates on October 6, and it’s likely Lacazette will miss all of them.

And that should give Nelson a real opportunity to make his mark in the senior side.

The winger started the opening two games of the Premier League season when he helped Arsenal to an away win at Newcastle and then a home success against Burnley.

But he was replaced by Nicolas Pepe at half-time of the Burnley game and hasn’t featured since - with Pepe starting against Liverpool and Tottenham.

"Against Burnley I struggled because they are very physical, and I think I got caught on the ball a couple of times too,” admitted Nelson.

“That's the thing with football: you have some good games, you have some bad games but the main thing is that you go back, you recap and next week you're ready to fight again.”

Lacazette’s injury means that Nelson’s chance could come again soon, possibly on Sunday at Watford.

The expectation going into the game at Vicarage Road was that Emery would once again play a front three of Pepe, Lacazette and Aubameyang - with Ceballos potentially playing just behind.

Should the Spaniard stick with that plan, then Nelson will be the man who comes in to replace Lacazette, with the teenager operating on the left of the attack and Aubameyang as the central striker.

And even if Emery opts for a slightly more conservative approach against Watford, as he did at Anfield last month when he played with a front two of Aubameyang and Pepe, then Nelson will still get a chance in the coming weeks - with four of Arsenal’s next six games at home.

Had Henrikh Mkhitaryan not being offloaded to Roma at the end of the transfer window, then the Armenia international could have been the man to come into the attack to replace Lacazette in Emery’s favoured 4-2-3-1 system.

But Arsenal made a decision to give youth a chance this season and Nelson is about the benefit from that approach.

“With young players, we need to help them achieve their performance helping us on the pitch,” said Emery. "They are playing with us, they are training sometime with us, and we have big expectation for their performance in the team.

“The reason some players are leaving is to give space for these young players.”

This was always going to be a big season for Nelson, who impressed during his loan spell with Hoffenheim last year, but still returned from Germany with some questions being asked about his temperament.

He caught the eye in flashes during the pre-season tour of the United States and did enough to earn himself a spot in the starting XI in Newcastle for the opening game of the Premier League campaign.

And even though he lost his place in the side before the international break, he was confident he would soon get another opportunity.

“I think this could be my time," he said. "I need to just keep training hard and getting all the information from the coaches and the players. If I do that, I'm going to have a big, big shout this season.”

And that opportunity has now arrived thanks to Lacazette’s unfortunate injury and Nelson has the chance to show he can make a significant impact at this level.

That’s something he’s yet to do in the Premier League. The talent is undoubtedly there, but in his five top flight appearances so far he has yet to contribute a goal or assist.

If he wants to stay in Emery’s thinking then that has to change and there’s no better place to start than at Vicarage Road on Sunday.

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