Back in January 2014, Arsenal handed a debut to a talent who looked far beyond his years. Gedion Zelalem featured in the FA Cup win against Coventry City as a just a teenager. However, his talents were already well known by the Arsenal faithful. He has shone in pre-season and under-21 matches previously, earning comparisons to Cesc Fabregas with his displays. Others compared him to the likes of Andres Iniesta or Xavi. International teams were fighting over his future, with the United States finally convincing him to change allegiance from Germany.
But, this summer, he faces the biggest challenge of his young career so far.
Zelalem’s progress at Arsenal had begun to stall. That was no surprise. For a young player, potholes in the road are expected. He was then loaned out to Rangers, where he performed well under Mark Warburton.
He then struggled to progress at Arsenal again. His last appearance for the club was in an EFL Cup game with Reading back in October 2016. The following January he was loaned out again. This time he headed to Holland, joining VVV Venlo, playing nine times as they won the Dutch second division title.
But in May last year, it all went wrong. Featuring for the USA’s under-20 side at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in South Korea he came off just 34 minutes into the opening game against Ecuador.
He had suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament which left him ruled out for a number of months. After stepping up his recovery in December last year, he soon suffered a setback. In March it was confirmed he was out for the season and Zelalem will now return to training at the start of pre-season.
In terms of his Arsenal career, it is now or never. Once tipped as one of football’s most exciting teenage talents, the USA youth international has to impress new boss Unai Emery this summer if he is to have any Arsenal future.
His contract at The Emirates expires in 2019, meaning he is potentially about to enter the final 12 months of his Arsenal career. If he wants to make it at Arsenal, then he is now in last chance saloon. If he cannot prove his fitness and talent this summer, it will be a surprise to see him feature for Arsenal again.