Nagoya Grampus 1 Arsenal 3 (Giroud, Ryo, Walcott)
There are times when a young player is provided with an opportunity in the first-team at an unusually early age and he looks instantly at ease. Think Cesc Fabregas, Jack Wilshere and, perhaps, now Gedion Zelalem.
The midfielder has received lavish praise for his performances thus far in the Asia Tour, and today, the 16 year old further enhanced his reputation by playing a superb ball through to Theo Walcott, who found the net to put Arsenal 3-0 up against Nagoya Grampus in their third pre-season fixture.
Zelalem also made a couple of other outstanding passes, and, welcomingly, demonstrated his ability to make well-timed tackles during his 45 minutes on the field. How much senior action he will receive during the forthcoming campaign is yet to be determined but, on these showings at least, he is doing his claims for inclusion no harm at all.
Arsene Wenger named a strong starting line-up for this fixture, with none of the eight youngsters involved from the off. There was, however, a run-out for Ryo Miyaichi, back in the town where he grew up, and the Japanese winger, despite not producing the best overall performance, did score his first Arsenal goal when he turned home a penalty with 26 minutes on the clock.
Prior to that, the Gunners had opened the scoring early on when Tomas Rosicky did well to find Olivier Giroud, who headed in his sixth goal of pre-season. Ryo then placed a shot just wide, but didn’t have long to wait to get on the scoresheet after the lively Giroud was brought down in the area.
Ryo was allowed to take the penalty and dispatched it with aplomb, before Walcott twice fired over when well-placed before the interval.
The second half saw the introduction of two German youth internationals in Zelalem and Serge Gnabry. Whilst the latter made some good runs, it was Zelalem who again took centre stage with his ability to retain possession with ease and play defence-splitting passes for his team-mates to run onto.
Perhaps he is not physically ready for the intensity of the Premier League just yet, but he should certainly be able to emulate Wilshere and feature in the League Cup as a 16 year old. There are times when you can be accused of putting too much pressure on a young player, but with Zelalem it is simply impossible to ignore his immense potential.
Gnabry had a couple of moments, too, cutting inside and firing just wide, but Walcott’s finishing was largely wasteful until the picture-book moment when he was expertly found by Zelalem before making it 3-0.
Arsenal threatened to increase the scoreline further still, with Kieran Gibbs seeing his shot hit the side-netting, whilst Wilshere, who completed 45 minutes as he stepped up his comeback, also came close.
Chuks Aneke and Chuba Akpom were then introduced, with Aneke finally receiving an opportunity to play in his preferred central-midfield role, having previously been deployed at centre-back on this tour. The 20 year old helped Arsenal to retain possession and made one good interception, but Akpom failed to receive much service up front and squandered the sole opportunity that came his way, with Zelalem, unsurprisingly, the architect once more.
Just prior to that, Nagoya had scored what proved to be a consolation goal, with Lukasz Fabianski being beaten by a header from Kisho Yano, to the delight of most of the supporters in the stadium. Damian Martinez, Kristoffer Olsson and Thomas Eisfeld, meanwhile, remained un-used substitutes throughout.
Arsenal held on for victory, however, and, amongst the several plusses to be taken from this fixture, one of the most paramount will again be the performance of Gedion Zelalem.