Neil Humphreys: Nelson could be Arsenal's next big thing
Teenage terrier makes point to Wenger with dazzling display against Bayern
|(Robert Lewandowski 9-pen)||(Alex Iwobi 90)|
Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez stole the headlines last night, but the real surprise in Shanghai was Reiss Nelson.
Martinez, who came on as a second-half substitute for Petr Cech, saved twice to earn the Gunners an unlikely 3-2 penalty shootout win against Bayern Munich, after the International Champions Cup clash ended 1-1.
But 17-year-old English winger Nelson showed why he's ready for a breakthrough season.
Arsene Wenger must acknowledge that his lethargic side largely toiled against the German giants, with the obvious exception of one dogged teenager. This kid is all right for Arsenal.
Never mind the birth certificate, look at Nelson's pedigree.
Franck Ribery certainly did. At one point, he got a sneak preview up close and all too personal. The Frenchman could have been forgiven for giggling.
He watched in mild bemusement as the kid with the curly hair skipped past him.
Different team, different age, different generation, but the moment had a real master-and-apprentice feel about it.
Ribery against Nelson was a close encounter of the old-school kind.
They are two wingers willing to chase down fullbacks with the infectious enthusiasm of greyhounds chasing a mechanical rabbit.
No outfield player displayed greater urgency. And no Gunner ran as often and as effectively as Nelson.
He came on just before half-time and offered the only sustained threat in an Arsenal jersey.
For much of the second half, he was the most enterprising footballer in either jersey as the game drifted towards insignificance.
Nelson genuinely worried Bayern. At times, the German side tag-teamed, doubling up to deal with the teenage terrier.
The winger is 17 but, like a resurgent Ribery arriving at the other end of his career, age means little to the impudent scamp.
From defence to attack, Nelson was a puppy chasing a bone, determined to please his master. Wenger had to be both impressed and mildly concerned.
The Frenchman won't be fooled by an unlikely penalty-shootout victory against a Bayern side that introduced their second stringers and essentially stopped playing in the second half.
Nelson was a lone bright spark in a dim contest that Arsenal struggled to illuminate.
Alex Iwobi's headed equaliser in the 90th minute, cancelling out Robert Lewandowski's ninth-minute opener from the spot, was Arsenal's solitary shot on target in the second half.
Only Petr Cech and some comically inept officiating stopped Bayern from running away with the contest.
The 35-year-old goalkeeper displayed the kind of acrobatics associated with Cirque du Soleil, using every limb and flailing appendage to make five excellent saves.
While an over-eager linesman disallowed a perfectly legitimate goal and then incorrectly ruled Bayern's forwards offside more than once, as if he'd been picked from the crowd and handed the flag for a laugh.
But a flying Czech and a flailing assistant still couldn't deny Bayern's superiority.
The Bundesliga champions have defeated the Gunners by the same 5-1 scoreline in their previous three meetings and the chasm in talent remains.
Bayern lost both Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso to retirement in the summer, but the Teutonic juggernaut rolls on regardless.
Newcomer James Rodriguez, Thomas Mueller and the indefatigable Ribery toyed with Arsenal's makeshift back three like a cat flicking at a ball of wool.
The Gunners lost Per Mertesacker before kick-off and Sead Kolasinac to illness, but a bug picked up in the Shanghai humidity couldn't entirely mask Wenger's inability to pick up enough signings in pre-season.
Bayern can theoretically choose from five proven competitors to play at centre back. Wenger struggled to put out a back three.
In the second half, he reverted to a traditional back four to avoid being swamped, but both sides made so many changes, the game was killed off as a contest.
It was left to Nelson to maintain flickering interest in the spectacle, challenging his markers throughout, just as he had in Arsenal's previous friendlies in Australia.
In the game's last attacking move, Iwobi planted home a fine header to take the game to a meaningless penalty shootout.
Martinez, who'd earlier come on for Cech, at least had the opportunity to say he defeated the German giants from the spot with two fine saves.
But Nelson could be Arsenal's real diamond in the rough this season.