January’s FA Cup appearance marked 17-year-old Gedion Zelalem’s debut in Arsenal’s senior team, but this summer, the potential U.S. international is getting his chance to impress with the first team before the season starts. Thrown into a midfield featuring the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Abou Diaby, Zelalem played 45 minutes at Boreham Wood on Saturday, with the Gunners’ 2-0 win giving one of their prized prospects a chance measure his progress.
The experience, as well as training with some of his idols, has left the prospect in awe.
“I think about it all the time,” Zelalem told Arsenal’s website today. “In training [sometimes] I’ll zone out thinking, ‘Oh, I’m really training with them’. I don’t think I’ll get used to it!”
According to the web site, Zelalem “impressed with a composed” half of play against the conference club, with the academy product hoping to get more chances with the team as preseason goes on.
“I’m delighted to play with the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Abou Diaby,” Zelalem said. “I grew up watching them, so playing with them is pretty much a dream come true. Hopefully I’ll be able to play with them more.”
Given Zelalem’s promise, that seems inevitable. The question is when; or, rather, when will the young midfielder get a chance to shine with the senior team on a regular basis?
Don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. Beyond Ramsey and the newly healthy Diaby, manager Arsèene Wenger can choose from Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Mathieu Flamini, and Francis Coquelin in central midfield. And with players like Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira linked to the Gunners, Arsenal’s depth will likely improve before kicking off the Premier League season next month.
But Zelalem is clearly progressing. If he made an FA Cup appearance last season, maybe 2014-15 will give him a few more chances to shine. Perhaps there’s a loan in his future. And maybe, as the Premier League season progresses, Wenger see an opportunity to give his prized prospect his full league debut.
In the interim, Zelalem is soaking up as much information as possible.
“All of them help me – not only the ones that play in my position,” Zelalem said of Arsenal’s stars. “Per Mertesacker tells me what to do and it’s just a good environment to be in.
“They tell me about their experiences, that things will get hard but that you just have to push on. It’s good.”