As Joe Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles packed their bags and headed north, Reiss Nelson found himself holding the fort at London Colney with the loan move that seems so crucial for his development at Arsenal failing to materialise before the January transfer window closed. At the time of writing, with less than two hours left for clubs to do business, it would take a remarkable chain of events for the young winger to secure a temporary home for the second half of the season.
Interest was there in Nelson's services. Two La Liga sides -- Valencia and Villarreal -- were in the mix over the weekend while the youngster's achievements in a previous loan in Germany meant that there were several clubs in the Bundesliga who considered him an option, among them Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim, where he spent the 2018-19 season. That interest is not understood to have translated into anything concrete. A sizeable loan fee and Arsenal's demand that any loaning club pay at least half his wages helped cool interest from abroad while there were doubts over whether the player would be best served in the Championship.
It leaves his best chance of regular game time being a lucky break at Arsenal, where he has struggled to even make the bench. There have long been great expectations placed on the winger's shoulders, he was viewed as the star of his academy age group and even caught Mikel Arteta's eye when the now-manager (at the time the club captain sidelined with injury) was taking his formative steps into coaching with the youth teams.
"I know Reiss because I coached him when he was 16 and straightaway he caught my eye," said Arteta last year. "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."
Nelson then burst into the first-team at the Emirates Stadium in September 2017, the vanguard of the youth movement that has propelled Arteta's side to such success in recent months. But whilst Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have managed to establish themselves as foundational pieces of Arsenal's strongest side, the 21-year-old that led the way has found opportunities rather hard to come by.
In total this season Nelson has made just nine appearances for Arteta's side and has only been involved in two Premier League matchday squads, coming off the bench in November games against Leeds United and Wolverhampton Wanderers. With Martin Odegaard having joined and the Europa League -- often a preserve of youngsters in the group stages -- perhaps their best chance of Champions League qualification it is unlikely that game time will be more consistent over the coming months.
Arsenal are not yet ready to cash in on an England under-21 international but were certainly cognisent that his development will not be well served by training sessions at least and such were looking to loan him out in the final days of the transfer window.
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It should be noted that was not always the plan and that Nelson and his representatives did not have the whole month to find a new home. Though there was an acknowledgement before the start of this month that it was best for him to get regular game time, the club initially indicated that they would not be letting him depart even temporarily. It would only take a few injuries to their frontline for the youngster to see more minutes.
The signing of Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli's successful return to fitness has eased those fears within Arsenal, but the late breakthrough in the search for a new creative midfielder left little time to get a deal done for Nelson. There was interest in his services including in the Championship, where Smith Rowe excelled with Huddersfield last season.
However, sources told CBS Sports that the second tier was not necessarily Nelson's first choice of loan destination. The young winger rejected the chance to join Leeds United last season and no club came close to changing his stance this month.
While Nelson is staying put, others who broke into the team at a similar time are stretching their wings elsewhere. Maitland-Niles was the subject of a tug of war between four clubs before Southampton withdrew and cleared the road for West Bromwich Albion. Willock is bound for Newcastle United where he will expect to get regular Premier League starts he has struggled to find at Arsenal.
For all three, this month represented a significant fork in the road in their careers in North London. Two believe their best route into the Arsenal first team comes by stepping away for a time -- and it should be noted neither West Brom nor Newcastle will have purchase options in their loan deals, indicating that the Gunners are not necessarily committed to parting ways with Maitland-Niles and Willock -- while Nelson will know that he will need luck to break his way if he is to get the chance to prove Arteta's initial view of him was correct.