Mikel Arteta has told Reiss Nelson he can be as good as he wants – as long as he continues to impress the Arsenal head coach with his new attitude and approach.
Plenty has been expected of Nelson, 20, for some time but the winger has only just started enjoying a run in the Gunners’ first team.
His introduction back into the side came after Arteta’s appointment last month, with the Spaniard claiming everything came “too easy” to Nelson during his formative years at the club.
Having been loaned out to Hoffenheim last season and starting just five games this year before Arteta replaced Unai Emery in December, Nelson has since started three of the last five matches.
Former Manchester City assistant Arteta was praised for his one-on-one coaching work with wingers Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane at the Etihad Stadium and, while he refused to draw comparisons between the pair and Nelson, he admits he has been pleasantly surprised by the England Under-21 international.
“I wouldn’t like to compare, what I will say is that Reiss has the potential to do whatever he wants,” he said.
“If he wants to do it, wants to learn and wants to challenge himself he can be a top, top player for this football club.
“At the moment I think he is on the right path, with the right attitude and then there are a lot of factors: he needs to deal with pressure, deliver every three days, score more goals and make the difference more for the team because he has the quality to do that.
“I know Reiss because I coached him when he was 16 and straight away he caught my eye. He is a boy that is willing to learn and loves the game but I think he has been a little bit confused in the last few years – what direction he had to take, some of the decisions that he made.
“Now I can see that he really wants it and I think he has the potential to do whatever he wants. He needs guidance, he needs a little bit of a stick, and he’s up for it. I put him in to play and I trust him because he wants it and I think he can deliver.”
When it comes to the factors which have held Nelson back so far, Arteta clearly feels the buck has to stop with the player.
“I was expecting a little more from his side as well,” he said. “He needs to take responsibility as well.
“If he wants to play for this club every three days, when you have to step in there you have to be almost perfect and at the moment I see this kind of attitude and desire.
“Because he was that good when he was young, everything was too easy for him.
“You have a lot of habits and those habits have to be taken away and replaced with new ones and he has done that very quickly, much quicker than I thought and that is why he has been playing.”
During his time in the Bundesliga last season Nelson did enjoy some standout moments but there were also question marks over his lifestyle off the pitch.
“I think we were all confused at some stage in our careers,” added Arteta.
“Even when you do that well and people talk about you, you tend to relax and then you see the picture as a little bit dirty.
“I think his picture now is very clear, what he wants, what we want from him and I trust him.”
Arteta is likely to place that trust in Nelson when Sheffield United visit the Emirates Stadium on Saturday afternoon, with suspended captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang needing to be replaced in Arsenal’s starting XI.