Gedion Zelalem had long been touted as a potential star of the future, but, during the four games he played for the U21s towards the end of last season, the Germany U16 international, despite playing some neat passes, failed to make a sustained impact on proceedings, prompting some to wonder whether all of the hype that surrounded him had been misplaced.
Any such fears have been laid to rest over the past couple of weeks, with Zelalem attracting worldwide attention following his stunning displays during the first-team’s pre-season tour of Asia. The midfielder has played some sumptuous passes in the three games to date, with the highlight possibly his superb assist to find Theo Walcott, who put Arsenal 3-0 up against Nagoya Grampus on Monday.
Zelalem may not be ready physically to endure regular Premier League action at present, but he appears set to follow in the footsteps of Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere by making his competitive first-team debut at the age of 16, with that landmark occasion in his career likely to come in the early rounds of the Capital One Cup. Should, as seems likely, the youngster continue to impress, run-outs in other competitions could well follow, and, although there is sometimes a danger of getting too carried away with hyperbole when it comes to young players, it cannot be denied that Zelalem is an outstanding talent.
Back in England, however, Arsenal’s U21s’ preparations for the new campaign took a turn for the worse last Saturday when they suffered a surprise 3-0 loss away to Conference South side Boreham Wood, who are managed by former Gunner Ian Allinson. Midfielder Dan Crowley, signed from Aston Villa, was again Arsenal’s stand-out performer with some brilliant dribbles, but the overall performance was an abject one and coach Steve Gatting will be hoping for a significant improvement when the new U21 league season gets underway at home to Manchester United next month.
Before then, several current members of the second-string squad may well have headed out on loan, with midfielder Nico Yennaris a key candidate for a spell elsewhere. The 20 year old missed out on the Asia Tour due to injury, but is now approaching full fitness and would greatly benefit from a regular run of matches in a competitive division.
A decision will also have to be made on perennial loanee Wellington Silva, with the Brazilian having returned to Arsenal for pre-season. The 20 year old, who has yet to receive a work permit that would enable him to play competitively in England, has spent time with Spanish sides Levante, Alcoyano and Ponferradina in recent years, but is still some way away from the first-team picture at Arsenal, having featured in the aforementioned game against Boreham Wood.
Meanwhile, an Arsenal U19 side, containing new signings Jamaal Raage and Julio Pleguezuelo, is currently out in Germany preparing for the RUHR Cup, a competition which will see them take on the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Valencia in fixtures that are sure to provide the youngsters with a stern test ahead of the new campaign.