Zelalem’s progression increases pressure on club’s other midfield starlets

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.

Source: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images Europe

Source: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images Europe

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.



  1. Crowley and Zelalem are quite different in the sense that Crowley is more of a dribbler with excellent ball control, while Zelalem is more of a passer of the ball. I would perhaps play Crowley further up the pitch and Zelalem deeper, in a ‘Pirlo’ role.

  2. As delighted as i am to have all these talented attacking midfielders like Zelalem,Crowley,Olsson,Jebb i really hope we go sign a really promising CB’s for the academy.Is there anyone who is considered to be an exceptional CB at our academy currently?

  3. Toral’s injuries have set him back a fair bit it seems.

    Olsson is still incredibly young, and there is no reason he couldn’t still make a career as he can play in that deeper role and in the role further forward. He is comfortable on the ball but still has work to do.

    Wenger’s dithering in the transfer market might have hurt Chuks chances of really making a statement this summer on tour. He looked OK on Monday…….. I was worried he’d try too hard to make an impression but he put in a decent performance. Again, he can play in the deeper role as well so he’s got a shot but this season he needs to take his chances.

    Zelalem, unlike the others, is a prodigy. Wilshere and Cesc were the two before him and he certainly seems cut from that cloth. He looks like he’ll play off the striker in the more advanced role, so there is no reason he couldn’t play in a midfield with the others. His position is the most sought after in our team with Rosicky, Cazorla, Wilshere and others all vying to play in the hole.

  4. I think it’s a bit early to start speculating what zelalems best position is. At this point he could become a fabregas, a xavi, or even a busquets, who knows. But I would personally say he reminds me more of a midfield controller in the way he supports his teammates and escapes pressure, than an attacking midfielder. You don’t need to be an attacking midfielder to play through balls.
    Crowley seems more like an attacking midfielder, his sharp turns, close control, acceleration and passing seems more suited to that position imo.

    So like….. future arsenal midfield 🙂


    New era of tiki taka lol

  5. Zelalem is without doubt an ‘Arsenal type’ player. Brilliant range of passing. But seems reluctant to shoot. Were Cesc and Jack goalscorers at this age Jeorge? Seen a few videos of Jack scoring worldies at 16.

  6. I feel that Jack Jebb is not at the level of others at the club, that is not to say he is going to have a bad career just thinking in relation to others at the club. olsson is a fine player composed on the ball and keeps things ticking over. Crowley looks like a right footed version of wilshere

  7. Chuks Aneke deserve to play this season,lets take a look of what he does at crewe alexandra.let him replace Diaby,other prospect who deserve 2 play are Thomas eisfeld,serge gnabry nd Ignasi Miquel

    1. The thing with Aneke is that he got his chances to show class when on loan at crewe. I think Arsenal have sent people to watch him play and I don’t think he was impressive enough. Wilshere was really good in Bolton. Diaby played for France and france first league at similar age. Aneke needs to be above the rest in league 1… not only a little bit sometimes.

  8. Aneke eisfeld toral olsson jebb zelalam crowley i fancy gedion n dan the nxt cesc & jack chuks & eisfeld r facing d same fate but 20 jebb not in d same bracket as d above toral & olsson r good bt nt beta dan dan & gedion

  9. I dont see much difference in quality between crowley and zelalem to be honest other than the latter playing at a higher level. And why are we making an attack minded player like Aneke play at centre back although he hasnt put a bad shift in them roles but is that really his position in the long term?

    1. its been a case of needs must for aneke, but why does everyone look at playing different positions as a bad thing? plenty of players stumble on a position as their career progresses, I remember a certain striker (sol campbell) for them down the road, now he didn’t turn out to be a bad centre half eventually for them, but even more so for us!!

      aneke has all the attributes, to be a yaya toure type player but could just as easily be a chris samba as he gets older or even a demba ba.

      I do wonder though why Daniel boateng wasn’t taken on tour, I know he isn’t rated by many, but hajrovic, monteiro, angha, djourou, squillaci have all been allowed to leave before boateng, so someone somewhere fancies him.

      1. He got 1 year left on contract. Thats why he is still here. He probably needs to impress the english clubs we are playing than going on tour and impress from there. The new Barca youngster we got will be the new U21 CB. Probably alongside Hayden. I hope Hayden get a chance to play in CM instead.

  10. aneke, Olsson, Jebb, wont make it at Arsenal

    Jon Toral and zelalem, crowley will make it at arsenal

    good article btw

  11. You all are mentioning Jon Toral but you seem to be just passing over his name. I’ve seen the kid play, he’s a natural footballer .. most of the other kids have it forced into them .. he does unexpected things like Zelalem but he’s a bit bigger. I’m not a scout, but he’s the one I am most impressed with besides Zelalem.

  12. Anekes chances arent hurt by anyone. None of the players mentioned are ready for first team football now whereas it looks like Aneke is. The hype on Z is ground hog day and is done to mask the deficiences evident in Wengers buying process and weak squad.

  13. I was just looking at the imbalance in the professional squad
    32 midfielders/forwards
    4 goalkeepers
    14 defenders this includes 2 x 17 year olds, 3 x 18 year olds (assuming Hayden is a defender?), 2 x 20 year olds and a 21 year old. also currently 4 of the 14 are injured.

    I would say that we need another keeper as 4 pros is a bit light. Number wise we have enough midfielders/forwards perhaps just bring in two to replace gervinho, bendtner, chamakh and park. However, defensively we are well under even without the injuries.

    even the under 18s looks light, assuming zelalem will not be with them there are just 16 other scholars plus 5 other players that qualify and I would say that at least 2 of the 5 are nailed on to be in the under 21s possibly all 5.

    we are going to be heavily reliant on the schoolboys this year.

    1. defenders are a much bigger gamble than strikers and midfielders. Defenders are relying a lot on physics. ALL the top defenders have great physics along with vision and intelligence on and off the ball but that comes with experience. Same goes for goal keepers.

      I think its a good thing that we let schoolboys play too. We should be alright in U21 and U18. I am not worried about anything other than the quality there.

  14. Agree atid defence has been neglected we dont have enough players… we have tons of attacking midfielders and while that nice I would like to see us scouting top young defenders to increase the chances of us promoting players to the first team from this position

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