Zelalem makes first-team debut but will have to be patient for further opportunities


Source: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images Europe

Source: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images Europe

After over a year of waiting, the moment finally arrived for Gedion Zelalem last night, with the much-vaunted youngster making his competitive debut during Arsenal’s 4-0 victory over Coventry City in the FA Cup.

Following an agonising wait for international clearance enabling him to play in England and several subsequent injury set-backs, Zelalem’s chance finally arrived, with the midfielder, who turns 17 tomorrow, replacing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for the final 19 minutes of the victory over the Sky Bet League One side.

The game was effectively won by the time he entered the field, but Zelalem still made something of an impact, with the Germany U17 international retaining possession well and, according to manager Arsene Wenger, demonstrating “personality” in his passing.

It was a massive moment for Zelalem, but it must also have been something of a relief, too, with his senior debut coming much later than had initially been expected. After catching the eye during the club’s pre-season tour of Asia, Zelalem made the bench for the Premier League fixtures against Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur in August, but yesterday marked his return to the first-team set-up.

In the interim, Zelalem has featured for Arsenal at various youth levels, making ten appearances in total this season spread across five different competitions to add to the four outings he made for the U21s whilst he was a schoolboy.

Already part of the first-team squad and with the announcement of his maiden professional contract a matter of days away, things are going rather well for Zelalem at present, but it would be rather churlish to expect him to become a regular presence in the senior squad over the coming weeks, barring a catalogue of injuries.

Wenger will surely provide Zelalem with as many opportunities to impress as possible when he sees fit, but, for now, it will be exceptionally difficult for the youngster to get into Arsenal’s Premier League side, with the likes of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Tomas Rosicky ahead of him.

The likelihood is that Zelalem will continue to train with the first-team and may be called upon on some occasions, perhaps in the next round of the FA Cup depending on the opposition, but he may have to wait until next season before featuring regularly for the first-team. Indeed, Cesc Fabregas made just three League Cup appearances during his first campaign at the club.

Zelalem is expected to marry his first-team commitments with regular appearances for the youth sides, and he could well feature when the second-string take on Chelsea in the U21 Premier League Cup on Monday evening.

Yesterday saw Zelalem represent the first-team after an agonising wait. He may have to remain patient for a little while yet before he samples that feeling on a regular basis.

17 comments

  1. given that as well as what you mention, he hasn’t been great at the youth levels this season, i can understand why wenger has waited to give him more chances in the first team.

    Zelalem should be kept at U21 level for another season and then be loaned out for 2 years (preferrably within the EPL) so that when he returns to arsenal he will have grown up mentally and physically, and be ready to fight for his place in central midfield against the likes of Wilshere, Ramsey.

    1. Loaned out? Why? Who plays the same system as us? Putting the ball in places no one is going to run to, and being surrounded by different styles and lower quality players for two years is going to improve him how? If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.

      Also he’d never sign a professional contract with us if he thought he’d not play for 3 years, he’d go to one of the many other teams chasing him.

    2. What do you mean? When you say loan out , after what year? Are you crazy, Some team they are waiting his contract situation , he must train with the first team and get experience , some time he will involve in some game . Instead of loan him loan him out it is better use him in u21 level, the only weakness is his physical strength this is the job of the coaching staff, this boy real talent.

    3. People seem to be against your view but I think if a club that fits his style can accommodate and play him he should go for it. Yeah it may be physicality that he’s lacking but not just strength. He needs to be more aggressive and dynamic to add to his vision and composure. I think he’s an immense talent but midfield is not only integral to our attacking play but also defense and helps us dictate the tempo. He’s 17 (tmrw I think!) and much as I hate to say it a few bad games and the crowd may be on his back ala ramsey. For a 17yr old the psychological impact shouldn’t be underestimated. Maybe not for two years but one year could do him wonders especially considering how well stocked we are in midfield.

    4. Saw a snippet of info, from someone who’s always been fairly reliable on these points, which said that until a player’s 18 his contract can be no more than two year’s long.

      So, if he proves to be anything like as good as the higher expectations, loaning him out until a longer contract can be secured (at 18 presumably) really would not do. Hopefully he likes the club a lot and is happy here, but, again if he does prove to be as good as the expectations, there will be a lot of pressure and tension already as he approaches 18, with other clubs pushing hard to get him to leave. In fact it may be essential to behave tactically with regards to playing time right up until that point (a year tomorrow), including not playing too much if he does come in and do brilliantly at some point.

      Therefore in all likelihood club’ll want to keep him close (not that there’s much precedent for loaning out players before 18, maybe because of the contracts thing) and do everything in their power to keep him happy.

      I for one will be a little nervy until the time that longer contract is signed and sealed

  2. Good write up Jeorge.
    Very impressed with Zelalem last night, despite his youth and the state of the match, he slipped seamlessly into our midfield, showing admirable calm and composure on the ball. His passing was superb, not least his eye for a penetrating forward pass.
    Not sure about loaning him out tbh, might be better if he stayed with us and the other Germans at our club, who’ll take care of him…

  3. Zelalem is too good and too unique for a loan to be of any real benefit to him. Why would we want to take such a precocious talent out of Wenger’s hands and hand him over to some nobody? He just needs to continue training with world class players and be drip-fed game time and allow his body to develop naturally to cope with the intensity of senior football. He has to be managed carefully, chances are that on loan he would be encouraged to bulk up unnecessarily and his game time would either be too little for him to be worth while or too much for him to steer clear of injuries. And his ‘strength’ is fine, just ask Wilshere:

    “It won’t be long before he’s ready. He’s so comfortable on the ball. Even in training he’s a nightmare to play against. He keeps the ball away from you and shields it. He’s not very big but he’s strong. He drifts in and out of players. He’s quite a strong lad and technically he’s right up there.”

    He has good core strength and knows how to use his body. And by having excellent technique and intelligence he can avoid other players getting close enough to him to get physical, most of the time anyway. Now it’s just a question of his body maturing and developing the fitness to play for longer, with more intensity, to recover quicker between games, etc. He already has everything else.

  4. for a guy his age, he was so composed and didn’t look out of place yesterday. we saw glimpses of his brilliance whenever he got the ball, and his pass to cazorla was superb and led to the fourth goal. but on many occasions yesterday, some of the senior players didn’t want to pass the ball to him even when he was the best placed one to give the ball too. I was a bit disappointed yesterday. it is very discouraging, frustrating for him if he constantly has to put up with this! his positioning was great, but most of the time they didn’t pass the ball to him, they’d rather send it to the stands!! it is the same at u21 level too. Arsene has to correct this if he wants his protégé to progress. Anyways, CONGRATULATIONS GEDI ON YOUR DEBUT! GOOD LUCK. we love you and we pray for you. and he is so cute too by the way :-)!

  5. no premier league manager will take this kid as a loan player, never in a million years.

    no matter how composed he is on the ball, no premier league manager other than wenger will give playing time to someone with such a weak frame.

    same reason is why no one really wants miyaichi.

    managers in this country want to see strength first. frimpong for example will never be short of interest

  6. He was alright for a kid. But did look lost on the pitch. He do struggle a bit in U21 games and a loan now will only harm him I think. Let him stay in U21 for at least another year.

      1. He only got the ball very few times. When he got it it was good but not amazing. Movement off the ball made him completely lost for a long time.

      2. Zelalem started the move for Cazorla’s goal with a great pass between the lines and he was excellent off the ball. He forced a couple of mistakes with very good pressing, and when he dropped deeper he kept great positions and distances; we looked more secure with Zelalem next to Jack than with Chambo there. He knew when to press and when not to, he was very smart defensively.

        And he didn’t get more of the ball was because most of the other players looked reticent to pass it to him, a 16 year old on his debut, unless he was in a lot of space to receive it. Yet when he did get the ball under pressure he never lost it. I’m not sure what more he could have done to impress you, he looked as polished as any player out there in the 20 minutes he had.

  7. Completely agree with Wrenny – Zelalem is the type of player that will get lost in the shuffle elsewhere. He doesnt even look great here at youth team level compared to how he looks in the first team where you have top players making the right runs and creating space.

    What is more, the things he really needs to learn as an attacking player, he can learn more from competing and practicing every day with the world class midfielders Cazorla, Ozil, Rosicky, Arteta etc who have a lot of similarities to him – and have the time passion to teach him.

    Yes Zelalem has more to grow physically, but again you look at his frame and you can see the power will come. He is never going to look like Afobe, but think that wiry strength you saw in Gilberto or you see in Kos now. Speaking of which, getting in battles in practice with Kos, Flamini etc is much better than sending him to the lower leagues to be savaged by thugs – with no protection from the refs. Which will happen for sure if he was sent there and tries to keep the ball.

    Best he stays here and develops. No rush whatsoever, as midfield is the one area of the team where we actually can afford to wait and let him develop gradually, as we are well stocked there.

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