Mikel Arteta has said Reiss Nelson has the potential “to do whatever he wants” in football, provided the young forward shows the right attitude and desire to make it at the highest level.
The Arsenal head coach has so far shown plenty of faith in Nelson, long seen as one of the country’s most talented youngsters, by starting him in three of his five games in charge.
Arteta criticised some of the decisions Nelson has made in recent years and said the 20-year-old needs “a stick” from the coaching staff if he is to fulfil his potential.
Nelson is likely to feature again this weekend, against Sheffield United, as top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang begins his three-game suspension.
“I know Reiss because I coached him when he was 16 and straightaway he caught my eye,” Arteta said.
“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.”
Nelson had mixed fortunes on loan at Hoffenheim last season, when he started well but lost his place in the team amid some disciplinary issues.
“I was expecting a little more from his side as well,” said Arteta when asked about Nelson’s season in Germany. “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. At the moment I see this kind of attitude and desire.”
Arteta has been praised for his impact on the development of Raheem Sterling at Manchester City, a player who had a similar potential and skillset before becoming one of Europe’s most feared forwards.
The Arsenal head coach would not compare the two players but he has urged Nelson to cope with the pressure of playing for a top club and “make the difference” for the first team by being clinical in front of goal.
“He was that good when he was young that everything was too easy for him,” said Arteta. “Then to make the step from a high level, it is a big step, and if you haven't exposed yourself down here, to do it the next day up there [in senior football] doesn't happen.
“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.”