Arsenal have updated their squad list ahead of the new season, with Gedion Zelalem and Krystian Bielik both relinquishing their first-team status, but it is surely only a matter of time before the talented youngsters will be back in the senior set-up.
Both Zelalem and Bielik had been listed as official members of the first-team squad for some time, but the pair are now classed as youth-team players for the 2015/16 campaign. That is no reflection on their performance levels but does perhaps indicate that neither player is as close to the first-team as was previously envisaged, with Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide now appearing to be the youngsters who are on the verge of promotion.
Bielik has had to endure plenty of frustration since his high-profile arrival from Legia Warsaw in the January transfer window. The youngster had to wait to make his debut for the club because of paperwork issues and has struggled with a niggling injury that disrupted his pre-season preparations.
The Polish youth international did, though, show some encouraging signs during his appearances for the U21s last season, particularly when he was deployed in his preferred defensive-midfield position. A good passer of the ball and an intelligent reader of the game, Bielik is tipped for an incredibly bright future, although at present he is effectively fourth choice in his position behind Francis Coquelin, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini.
Zelalem is facing a similar problem in terms of senior competition, with an abundance of established midfielders currently ahead of him. The United States youth international is, though, determined to showcase his talent and has been especially impressive for the U19s in South Africa recently.
With Dan Crowley having joined Barnsley on loan, a space should open up for Zelalem to establish himself as the primary creative force for Arsenal at U21 level this season; something he should thrive upon. His penchant for unlocking defences with precise through-balls remains very much intact, but unlocking the door to the Arsenal first-team will be a considerably tougher challenge.
Today’s news indicates that Bielik and Zelalem are likely to feature predominantly for the U21s this season as opposed to being in and around the first-team. That’s not to say that they won’t be involved in the senior set-up at all, however, with both players likely to be involved in the Capital One Cup squad.
Such is the competition for places in the squad, it is going to be challenging for both players to command regular first-team game time this season, especially when their lack of experience at the top level is taken into account. This should be classed as a season of development for both players, who, let’s not forget, are still very young and have plenty of time ahead of them to make the breakthrough in the future.