Gedion Zelalem’s collection of impressive performances during the club’s ongoing pre-season tour of Asia have certainly captured the attentions of Arsenal supporters, and it now appears a certainty that the Germany U16 international will be promoted to the first-team squad at some point in the near future.
Zelalem’s meteoric progression does, however, have implications for some of the other youngsters striving to make their way through the club’s set-up, in particular those who tend to operate in the same attacking midfield position as the 16 year old.
Kristoffer Olsson, for instance, is also out in Asia with the first-team and scored during the tour opener against Indonesia, but the Swedish youngster hasn’t received as many opportunities to shine as he would have liked, owing largely to the presence of Zelalem.
Another young professional, Jon Toral, is still recovering from an injury sustained last season, and the former Barcelona youngster would doubtless have been in Asia too were he not currently sidelined. Chuks Aneke, meanwhile, has had to be content with a mere 21 minutes of football in his preferred position during the tour, having been forced to play at centre-back against Indonesia and Vietnam.
The 20 year old, who shone whilst on loan at Crewe Alexandra last season, is probably in the most difficult situation out of all the club’s young midfielders given that he is now at an age where he would ideally want to be playing regularly, but such an option appears unlikely at present with so many talented players in his position at the club.
It is worth remembering that in the first-team squad manager Arsene Wenger can already call upon two young midfielders in Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, who recently extended their contracts at the club until 2018, suggesting that they will remain at Emirates Stadium for the long-term.
Further down the system, summer signing Dan Crowley, who joined from Aston Villa, has already featured twice for the U21s during pre-season, and was comfortably Arsenal’s best player on both occasions. The midfielder, who does not turn 16 until next month, still has much to learn, particularly with regards to releasing the ball at the correct time, but his potential is glaringly obvious and he will continue to develop as the campaign progresses. Jack Jebb, meanwhile, remains a promising talent and will undoubtedly be a regular for the second string this campaign.
All of this suggests that there are a clutch of talented young central midfielders at the club, and, such is the competition for places, only the very best will succeed in the long-term. This can be viewed as a positive, as the rivalry will force each individual to up their respective games, with the overall aim of making the first-team squad.