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The story behind Reiss Nelson, the man who could’ve written himself into the Arsenal history books.

It’s the 60th minute at the Emirates Stadium, the fans await in anticipation. Arsenal are losing 2-0 to Bournemouth, who offered them little threat to their title chances before a ball was kicked – they can’t afford to slip up now.

The fans still had hope though. The atmosphere around North London has changed this season. Partey scores. White scores. The Arsenal are in reach of the three points. That game that offered little threat, could go on to be one of the most defining games in Arsenal’s season.

They have developed a habit of making the impossible possible. It was the 86th minute against Fulham, the 90th against Manchester United, the 93rd against Aston Villa – they seem like the only team fighting in this title race. Can they do it against Bournemouth?

Then something special happened. Reiss Nelson had his very own Vincent Kompany moment, in the company of his home, the Emirates Stadium. He’s risen through the ranks here, searched for first team football in Europe, suffered injury, but he has returned and potentially given Arsenal a crucial two points in the title race.

The fans are sent into raptures in North London. The stadium exploded. Limbs everywhere, the noise colossal, grown men crying and Arteta made himself a new friend in the form of a young pitch invader. It was quite literally a tornado of passion.

Mikel Arteta admitted that it was his greatest moment in charge of the Gunners: “That’s probably the loudest and the most emotional moment we’ve had here.”

It was the victory required to win titles. It wasn’t sparking football or technically amazing, it wasn’t a sprint, but a marathon. It was a win based off hard work, spirit and the stars aligning. The whole season has been like a wave of rising emotion – and Nelson’s goal was the crest of it.

What is Nelson’s story behind this moment, where has he come from and what has he gone through?

Reiss Luke Nelson was born on the 10th December 1999 in Elephant and Castle, London. His father is from Zimbabwe, and his mother is English.

He wasn’t born into wealth – and without the abundance of toys at Christmas and on birthdays – his family were pleased to have him delighted at the sight of a football.

He grew up in Aylesbury Estate in Walworth and attended the London Nautical School. His parents sent him to this school to avoid the chances of Reiss getting trapped into gangs, knife crime and drug dealing – which were common where he grew up.

He was a bright kid, who knew where he wanted to go in his career. Nelson’s older brother, Ricky, helped keep Reiss on the straight and narrow and away from trouble, having his arm around him and reminding him to believe in himself to fulfil his potential. He managed his schoolwork and his football well.

Another person great to have around was his best mate, somebody who loved football and knew the game just as well as Reiss. That friend being a familiar face: Jadon Sancho. The current Manchester United man got into the Watford academy at a similar age Reiss got into Arsenal’s, and he was picked up by Manchester City at age 14. The two met up with each other often to play football.

They had a telepathic understanding of each other on and off the football pitch and they showed impressive levels of skill, attending youth tournaments together and winning many of them in style.

Cage football helped form the style of player Reiss is today. Look at his flashy highlight reels from a young age – he was quick and unpredictable. The lack of space in the cages forces youngsters to be more inventive when beating a man, traits which the likes of Reiss Nelson, Jadon Sancho and Eberechi Eze have carried into professional football.

Reiss Nelson has always been an exciting product of Hale End and has always attracted numbers on social media due to his star persona. His cool haircuts, silky footwork and unpredictability has seen huge popularity but also weighted expectations. This continued when the starlet broke into the first team, and his presence was felt, but he didn’t quite cut it.

Reiss was so young when he broke into Arsenal’s first team. He featured in pre-seasons, the community shield, cup competitions, European games and the Premier League as a teenager – but he never became a regular for the first team.

It was Jadon, again, who helped him in football, offering him crucial guidance based off his own personal experiences. He advised him to seek first team football across Europe after his successful time at Borussia Dortmund. Nelson followed his best friend’s footsteps, joining Hoffenheim – a club willing to let him showcase his talent.

He hit the ground running, scoring just 14 minutes into his debut. He went on to score 7 goals for the German side in just 587 minutes, acclaiming high praise from Julian Nagelsmann, stating that he was, “Incredible in one-on-one situations, and could reach the level of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben if he maintains consistency and mentality.”

Last season, aged 22, Nelson was loaned out to Feyenoord. Football has a cut-throat environment, and some began to doubt the ability of Nelson as he continued to search for first team football outside of North London. He was still only young – but that is the nature of football now, with some players breaking into their first teams at the age of 17, 18 and 19.

It was his time at Feyenoord where everything came together – and he realised the importance of the advice Arteta had given him at age 12-13. Arteta was getting his coaching badges and learning on the job at the Arsenal youth teams whilst still playing in the first team – a huge pull factor of Arsenal’s academy. Granit Xhaka is a current example of this.

When Arteta met Reiss at a young age, he never doubted his footballing ability. He gave Reiss lectures often, not suggesting that he didn’t work hard or acted immaturely, but that he didn’t understand the magnitude of the opportunity he had in front of him. He needed him to stay grounded, a valuable lesson that stuck with him – and caught up with him at Feyenoord.

Since then, Reiss has returned to the Gunners, and has struggled with injuries. Thigh and groin problems have troubled the Englishman throughout the last two seasons, but he never gave up. Playing a cameo role can be frustrating and trying to compete with the likes of Bukayo Saka can be even harder, but he has still had a huge impact that could go down in history – when he scored THAT goal on the 4th of March 2023.

It was him, alongside lovable Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Eddie Nketiah who emerged from the Arsenal academy. This was just one of the ways that Arsenal have re-established the core identity of the club – and encapsulated what it means to play for Arsenal.

With money in football nowadays, for a fan who can feel so distant from the team they love, there is nothing more consoling than the sense of belonging and support you have for a player that is Arsenal through and through – its priceless.

Imagine if Arsenal slipped up now. Imagine if Manchester City closed the gap to two points. It would definitely be fair to say, Reiss Nelson did cut it.


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