Zimbabwean youngster, Reiss Nelson scored twice for Arsenal as the London side completed a 5-0 rout over Nottingham Forest.
Born in Elephant and Castle, London to a Zimbabwean father and an English mother, Reiss Nelson has been regarded as the club’s most outrageously talented young attacker.
Although also eligible for Zimbabwe, Nelson recounted in 2018 that he aimed to play for England in the long term, saying that playing for England would be “a dream come true”.
As a teenager he played with a level of speed and skill that made him, to his coaches and team-mates, as close as you can be to a sure-thing to make it as a first-team regular.
The development of a footballer is rarely as straightforward as one might hope, however, and over time Nelson has been emphatically surpassed by a younger, even more impressive graduate of Arsenal’s youth ranks: Bukayo Saka.
For a few seasons now, Saka has been the player that many thought Nelson would become. A key member of Mikel Arteta’s side, and a star forward for England. Nelson, meanwhile, has so far not hit the expected heights. He spent last season on loan at Feyenoord, where he scored just two goals in 21 league appearances.
Given all this, it felt almost poetic that it was Nelson who replaced Saka when the England winger limped off with an injury in the first half of this thrashing of a woeful Nottingham Forest. Not only that: Nelson went on to contribute in the same decisive manner that Saka has done so regularly in an Arsenal shirt.
Nelson ended the day with two goals and an assist to his name, playing a major role in three of Arsenal’s five strikes past Forest’s alarmingly flimsy defence. Arteta’s side are back on top of the league and this was the sort of performance – energetic, inventive, clinical – that they have been craving over the past few weeks.
There is nothing like a 5-0 victory to erase the memories of a difficult defeat, and Thursday’s loss to PSV Eindhoven felt like a long time ago by the final whistle here.
Similarly, Forest’s victory over Liverpool last weekend will now feel as if it was from a different lifetime for Steve Cooper, who appeared aghast at his side’s dreadful defending. This was a deeply concerning showing, lacking in any discernible ambition or quality. Much more of this and relegation is a certainty.
“We fell way short today,” said Cooper. “It ended up as painful viewing and painful for the players to play in.”
Reiss Nelson, a player for the future
Forest’s approach at first was to defend deep and tackle hard. Within 50 seconds, they had committed their first foul, with Renan Lodi clattering into the back of Saka.
Sadly for Saka, it was a sign of things to come. He was limping after that first collision, and was then hobbling again a few minutes later. Before long, Lodi had landed his next blow with a lunging challenge.
In between these bumps and bruises, Saka registered his latest assist with a curling cross for Gabriel Martinelli. The Brazilian’s header was past Dean Henderson before the Forest goalkeeper could react, and the home side celebrated with a shirt of Pablo Mari, their on-loan defender who was attacked in a horrifying stabbing incident in Italy this week.
Saka soldiered on until the 27th minute, but eventually had to make way. Opportunity suddenly beckoned for Nelson. The 22-year-old had not featured in the Premier League since August last year, but here he played with the same daring and skill that Saka so often provides.
Nelson’s first Arsenal goal since November 2020 came just four minutes after the break, with Granit Xhaka slicing through the Forest defence. From there the ball was worked to Gabriel Jesus, who teed up Nelson to score at the second time of asking.
Did Forest know that the game was up? It looked like it. Nelson scored his second just three minutes later, converting a cross from Jesus, before the winger rolled a simple pass into Partey on the edge of the box. In the same way he scored against Tottenham Hotspur earlier this month, Partey curled his effort with power and accuracy into the top corner.
More pain was to come for Forest, with Martin Odegaard soon lashing a fine finish high into the net after he had combined with Jesus inside the area. It completed the humiliation for the visitors, who had no answer to the class that Arsenal showed in attack, first with Saka and then without him.