Gedion Zelalem’s potential is such that it hardly came as a surprise yesterday when it was announced that the youngster, along with his compatriot Serge Gnabry, has officially been promoted to Arsenal’s first-team squad for this season.
Whilst it is an achievement for many first-year scholars to even break into the U21 side during their first full season at the club, Zelalem has followed in the footsteps of Jack Wilshere in being promoted to the senior side before he is eligible to sign a professional contract.
A series of impressive performances during the club’s Asia Tour, which included several tantalising glimpses of his passing ability, confirmed to manager Arsene Wenger that the Germany youth international is ready to be part of his plans for the campaign.
Zelalem is yet to make his competitive debut for the club, but that moment will come soon enough, potentially later this month in the Capital One Cup away to West Bromwich Albion. One problem that the midfielder has had to contend with so far this season, however, is a lack of game time, as he has not featured at any level due to training and travelling with the first-team.
Wenger memorably remarked during Wilshere’s maiden campaign in the first-team that he did not want the youngster to become a “professional bench warmer” and that sentiment could apply to Zelalem as well, with the former Olney Rangers player set to still turn out for the club in the UEFA Youth League and FA Youth Cup, as well as featuring intermittently for the U21s.
As for his involvement in senior competitions, Zelalem could see much action in the two domestic cup competitions, whilst, depending on injuries to others, he could also feature as a late substitute in the Premier League and Champions League, as Wilshere did in the 2008/09 season.
In fact, if he features in the Premier League within the next month, then Zelalem will eclipse Wilshere as Arsenal’s youngest ever league player, although Cesc Fabregas will retain his status as the youngest player to ever feature for the first-team.
Wilshere and Fabregas both managed to build upon their early starts by establishing themselves as key midfielders for Arsenal and it is hoped that, given the necessary time, Zelalem will eventually follow suit.