Arsenal

Arsenal can't make City's Sancho mistake with Nelson

 • by Ryan Baldi
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The 18-year-old English attacker who moved to Germany after having to contend with a lack of playing time in England. The gifted prodigy now thriving in the Bundesliga and receiving international recognition. The London-born wide man whose confidence is higher than ever after moving to the continent and proving he is ready for senior football.

Jadon Sancho’s story, thanks to his recent debut, is one now well told, but the exact same narrative is becoming true of Reiss Nelson.

On loan at Hoffenheim from Arsenal, the teenager is in rampant form in the Bundesliga, having scored four times already this season, becoming the latest of a growing number of English hopefuls fleeing for mainland Europe in search of opportunities.

Sancho may be stealing the headlines of late, reportedly attracting £100million’s worth of interest from Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and former side Manchester City.

But Nelson is making waves of his own in Germany, displaying all the verve, confidence and directness that made him one of Arsenal’s most-promising academy graduates of recent years.

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In less than two months with Hoffenheim, Nelson has already made more league appearances (four) than he managed for Arsenal (three) last season. And the faith the German side’s manager, 31-year-old Julian Nagelsmann who will join RB Leipzig next season, has shown in the young Englishman is reaping dividends.

In just 163 minutes of Bundesliga action, Nelson has found the net four times, his tally doubled by a brace against Nürnberg on October 20, rattling home two confident, close-range finishes in a matter of minutes.

“Four goals in four games is a reasonable rate of return and, as a young player, it’s important that he consolidates that form,” Nagelsmann said after the youngster’s goals against Nurnberg, an effort to temper expectations and dampen the growing hype around the talented Englishman.

Nelson and Sancho are close friends off the pitch, having both risen through the London youth football scene as kids and been international colleagues at various age-groups. The Arsenal man admitted earlier in the season he was advised to give the Bundesliga a try by Sancho, who joined Borussia Dortmund back in February.

“We’ve got a lot of similarities so Jadon said I should go over there and that’s how I can show my brilliance,” said Nelson earlier this season. “He knows I like one-on-ones, he knows I’m a fast player and said there were a lot of those opportunities.”

Although Nelson and Sancho have many stylistic similarities, both tremendously fast, skilful and able to improvise in confined areas, Nelson has found himself asked to perform a role different to the one Sancho occupies at BVB and those he himself has been used to at Arsenal.

Rather than employing the Englishman’s speed and creativity in wide areas, Nagelsmann has looked to appropriate his directness, power and ability to strike the ball cleanly and accurately with either foot through the middle.

Within Hoffenheim’s 3-5-2 set-up, Nelson has featured both as a central midfielder and as part of the front two, with the 18-year-old even given the No.9 shirt. And the youngster’s superlative goals return suggests the move was an astute one.

The difference between Nelson’s and Sancho’s role are evident when analysing their respective statistics for the German league season, too. As has been well documented, Sancho leads Europe’s major league’s for assists, with six, while his first goal of the season arrived recently, just three minutes into a 4-0 defeat of Stuttgart on the same day Nelson bagged a brace against Nürnberg.

Neslon hasn’t directly created any goals for his teammates as yet, but his average of 2.2 goals per 90 minutes himself is quite remarkable. Furthermore, Sancho is averaging 2.07 open-play key passes and 0.88 big chances created per 90 to Nelson’s 1.65 and zero; while the Arsenal man is shooting for goal 3.31 times per 90 and making 4.97 penalty-area entries to Sancho’s 0.59 and 4.44.

With and England Under-21 debut in October, Nelson has carried his fine scoring form on to the international scene, too. He marked his bow for Aidy Boothroyd’s side with a nonchalant back heel against Andorra, before netting a thunderous free-kick from 30 yards out against Scotland.

It would be unfair to expect Nelson to continue scoring at his current rate, but his early Bundesliga performances deserve to have caught the attention for the Arsenal hierarchy.

Although the Gunners are not short of attacking talent, Nelson is proving that, upon his return next summer, he deserves regular first-team opportunities.

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