You have to wonder how close Gedion Zelalem is to the first team squad. He made his debut in an Arsenal shirt 3 years ago, coming on as a substitute for Alex Oxlade Chamberlain against Coventry City in the FA Cup. Like most players that emerge from the club’s academy, he was hailed as one of the most exciting talents to come out of the club for years. At 16, big things were expected. Admittedly, not straight away but maybe a few substitution appearances before breaking through and playing on a regular basis by the time he hit 18.
But here we are 3 years later, another loan deal and still no nearer the Arsenal first team. This time young Zelalem has been sent out to VVV Venlo who currently play in the Dutch second tier. This is on the back of last season where he played for Glasgow Rangers in the Scottish Championship, making 22 appearances. The idea must have been to get him toughened up in a league where players need to be able to stand strong and fight more than having some technical ability.
There were glimpses of what Zelalem can do. He can certainly pass the ball and his dribbling skills are high quality. He seems to have time on the ball and is able to create space for himself. One thing I did notice from his time at Rangers was that he didn’t shy away from the ball. He would pass, move and then be looking to receive the ball again, having found space.
The one criticism of Zelalem however, was how easy he could be knocked off the ball. Hereby lies the problem. He isn’t a physically strong player. Arsene Wenger has admitted that he hasn’t developed as quickly as he would of liked and he is a bit behind in terms of his body structure. Maybe some major gym work is in order?
Zelalem is an attacking midfield player and you can imagine Zelalem coming up against a player like Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante and being almost bullied off the ball every time or, worse, starting against Sunderland with Lee Cattermole flying in with a tackle on him. Gedion could be lost for weeks!
But he is still only 20 years old and time is on his side. Arsenal clearly feel that he can still make the break through although time is running out. However, after Borussia Dortmund came sniffing around looking to sign Zelalem on a free transfer, Arsenal awarded him with a new contract.
This is a very important year for Gedion Zelalem and Arsene Wenger will be watching with interest with how he performs for VVV Venlo. Admittedly, this is a sideward step after his loan in Scotland. At this stage of his career he should really be making forward steps. However, a good 4 months in Holland may see him come back and pushing for a first team slot at Arsenal come preseason.
You do feel this is Gedion Zelalem’s last chance to impress and show the Arsenal management he’s strong enough to take his chance. He certainly has the talent, it’s now down to whether he has the physical ability to do so.