Back at the start of 2014, Gedion Zelalem made his Arsenal debut in a cameo appearance against Coventry.
Operating as a central midfielder on the evening in the FA Cup, it was sure to be a memorable occasion for the talented teenager – who impressed and had been tipped for excellence ever since.
Having remained in north London this summer, despite clubs declaring their interest in taking him on a loan deal elsewhere across England, seems to have been a beneficial choice for the midfielder’s development.
Playing in the newly-revised u23 Premier League, he’s one of the more experienced heads in an ever-improving Arsenal side who are all essentially fighting for the same thing: senior minutes with a view to a first-team breakthrough.
Having played six of Arsenal’s u23 league matches this term, Zelalem has mainly been deployed as a defensively-minded midfielder and done well there, usually alongside Ainsley Maitland-Niles or Ismaël Bennacer as part of an effective holding partnership protecting the backline.
It has evidently worked, meaning that the Young Guns concede fewer goals on average in Zelalem’s presence and have only lost once all season when he was involved, a 2-0 away defeat against Reading. Both goals were conceded after he was replaced on the hour mark.
Questions have been asked in the past about Zelalem’s suitability to a midfield role, as he didn’t look physically imposing on the pitch. Since then though, he’s been doing strength and conditioning training to improve and the benefits are there for all to see on the pitch.
Gedion turns 20 in the final full week of January and although he’s performing well at youth level, that’s genuinely unsurprising given his current ability.
Unless Arsenal go deep into the cup competitions, it’s unlikely that he’ll get more than a ten minute cameo appearance for the senior side. As beneficial as training with the first-team players is, it feels like another loan spell is in the offing for Zelalem as he continues developing with experience to play in a number of different roles across midfield.
Provided the right club is chosen for him, one where he’ll have an opportunity to play on a regular basis – but his place is not guaranteed – he can appreciate the rigours of competitive football, just like he did in Scotland with Rangers last term.