Gedion Zelalem is back in the continent where, two years ago, he first provided a global audience with some tantalising glimpses of his ability in an Arsenal shirt.
The hype surrounding Zelalem during the club’s 2013 Asia Tour was considerable and the young midfielder, who was just 16 at the time, didn’t disappoint as he played some neat passes (one particular through ball to Theo Walcott remains vivid in the memory), which earned him a promotion to the first-team squad at the end of that summer.
Since then Zelalem has had to be rather patient for further first-team outings. He has featured twice competitively for the senior team and was also involved in several friendly matches last summer, but he will be looking to use this pre-season to assert his credentials ahead of the new campaign.
Much has changed since those heady days of 2013. Zelalem, although he still has some improvements to make in that regard, has developed a little physically, whilst he now represents the United States at youth level as opposed to Germany. He is no longer the youngest member of the group, with Chris Willock, just 17, having made the trip to Asia. Zelalem has also been utilised in different positions, having operated on the right wing and as a deep-lying midfielder on some occasions.
The core elements of his game remain very much the same, though, with passing undoubtedly his strongest suit. Zelalem’s ability to unlock defences is scarily good and, intriguingly, he often appears to perform better when surrounded by more senior players rather than those who are of a similar age.
With the majority of the club’s international players not set to be involved until the second game of the Premier League Asia Trophy at the weekend, Zelalem could well feature when the Gunners take on a Singapore Select XI tomorrow. If he does play, the 18-year-old will be hopeful of replicating his exploits from the 2013 tour as he seeks to become increasingly involved with the first-team squad.
Quite what the season has in store for Zelalem remains to be seen. He has been linked with a loan move in recent weeks and such a spell would enable him to make those aforementioned physical improvements. An intelligent player, albeit one who sometimes appears to operate on the periphery of matches, Zelalem will now be looking to demonstrate that he can perform at a high level on a consistent basis.
Arsene Wenger remarked upon arriving in Asia that the performances of some of the club’s young players in pre-season could impact upon his plans in the transfer market. Zelalem will be hopeful of giving the Frenchman something to think about, even if Arsenal are awash with creative midfielders at present.