Danny Welbeck's injury has opened up opportunity at the Emirates, and with Reiss Nelson off to a blazing run of form on loan at Hoffenheim, Arsenal may consider recalling the teenager.
Reiss Nelson’s stunning start to life on loan in the Bundesliga with German side Hoffenheim has sent waves of intrigue around Europe regarding the Arsenal starlet’s talent, not least at the Emirates, where suggestions have grown that the young forward could make an early return.
Having been sent on loan to the Bundesliga during the summer to gain more regular first-team experience, few could have anticipated the incredible start to his spell in German football that Nelson has enjoyed so far.
The 18-year-old forward signed a new long-term contract with Arsenal prior to completing his loan move to the Rhein-Neckar-Arena in August, indicating that Nelson was very much one for the future under Emery at the Emirates.
However, the speedy youngster has gone on to set the Bundesliga alight in the early phases of his spell under Julian Nagelsmann, scoring six goals in seven league appearances for Hoffenheim so far.
His recent strike in the 1-4 win over Bayer Leverkusen really captured the imagination, not least among Arsenal fans, as Nelson struck a brilliant curling effort from outside the box.
That goal put the youngster on level terms with Bayern Munich superstar Robert Lewandowski in the Bundesliga scoring charts, and Nelson’s brilliant form has sparked speculation of a potential early return to Arsenal.
Interestingly, the surprise notion has not been ruled out by either the player himself or by Arsenal boss Unai Emery.
When the suggestion of Nelson’s loan spell being cut short was put to the Spanish coach, Emery responded, via the Evening Standard: “He can take responsibility, minutes and confidence in a team [with Hoffenheim] where he can play more.
“Then the objective with him is to come back with us and grow with this experience. My experience in Spain and France is that with this loan the player can take this.
“With Reiss, we are very happy with him at the moment. We follow him every match. We are thinking how he can help us in the future.”
When asked about the possibility of recalling Nelson in January, Emery responded: "At the moment we don't speak about that."
Whilst Nelson’s loan spell with Hoffenheim is certainly having the desired effect, as described by Emery, increasing attention is already beginning to turn to how the youngster could help Arsenal not only in the future, but also in the present.
The likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Danny Welbeck, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alex Iwobi, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil are all competing for attacking places in Emery’s 4-2-3-1 system this season.
With that in mind, Nelson’s temporary move away to aid his development through regular game time was a wise move for the player and for the club. However, with Welbeck suffering a serious injury during the 0-0 draw in the Europa League clash with Sporting CP on Thursday night, the situation has changed.
WithWelbeck now set for a lengthy spell on the side lines, Arsenal suddenly appear short on depth in his position.
Though Welbeck had only featured as a substitute at most for the Gunners in the Premier League this term, Emery has shown flexibility in rotating his side between competitions this term.
The Europa League and Carabao Cup have been used as opportunities to field squad players.
Welbeck has been a key part of the cup sides so far, most significantly in scoring the winner away to Sporting CP in the reverse fixture in the Europa League.
Now, with the 27-year-old side lined with what Arsenal have confirmed as a ‘significant’ ankle injury, the Gunners have lost their back-up plan.
Fixtures are set to come thick and fast across three competitions over the winter period, and strength in depth will be key. The ability to rotate the team between matches, maintainaing freshness and preventing further injuries and fatigue will be key to success.
With a lack of an obvious solution to Welbeck’s injury within the ranks, besides the young and talented but largely untried and untested Eddie Nketiah, Emery must now decide on how to adapt to such a significant injury moving forward.
For many clubs, attention in such a case would immediately turn to the upcoming January transfer window, with the potential to recruit a new striker or attack-minded player to fill Welbeck’s void.
However, much has been made of Arsenal’s self-sustaining model, as laid bare by the club's executive pair Raul Sanllehi and Vinai Venkatesham in recent interviews. This approach means that Arsenal will primarily look to utilise their resources from within the club's means, rather than rely on excess spending.
In Nelson, the Gunners have the ideal resolution to their new problem already on the books at the Emirates.
Nelson’s form for Hoffenheim this season has established the forward as one of the most exciting young players in European football at present and, having played minimal first team football in his Arsenal career so far, his return will feel like a new signing for the Gunners.
The Arsenal academy product has already proved that he is more than ready and capable of performing at the top level, having also starred for Hoffenheim in their Champions League campaign this term.
Though Emery’s team have found their attacking stride this season with more concise and tactically assured football, their offensive setup is often lacking in natural pace and width in the wide areas, with the full backs often the primary attacking outlets on the wings.
Not only has Nelson displayed an excellent eye for goal at Hoffenheim, the forward also has a wonderful ability to carry the ball with pace and beat opposition defenders at will. In many senses, the Hale End graduate is the ready-made answer to one of Arsenal’s greatest needs.
“Hopefully I’ll come back in a couple of months,” Nelson said when asked about his eventual return to Arsenal. “If it’s a year so be it – ready to play in Arsenal’s first team.
Based on current circumstances, the teenage prodigy’s return could come sooner than expected.