Is Zelalem ready for Arsenal's first team?

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Whilst Arsenal fans remain in the dark over the club’s transfer plans this summer, a light has been shining bright on their pre-season tour of the Far East.

16-year-old ‘wonderkid’ Gedion Zelalem became a trend on Twitter worldwide during the Gunners’ 3-1 victory against boss Arsene Wenger’s former club Nagoya Grampus.

The spotlight had been reserved for Wenger and Arsenal youngster Japan international Ryo Miyaichi who scored a penalty in the second half after Olivier Giroud netted the opener after just 3 minutes.

But, what happened in the second half, no one could have predicated. Zelalem proved himself once again to be one of the most exciting prospects Arsenal have had in their ranks in a long long time – probably since Jack Wilshere burst through and, before him Cesc Fabregas - with his effortless and perfectly-weighted through-ball to put Theo Walcott in for a tap-in.

The young Ethiopian-German midfielder has the vision and technical control, even at his age, to be a world-class playmaker. His manager and teammate Wilshere have said much the same. The youngster needs to build himself up physically (and likely mentally too) but, judging on pure technique and ability, the young man is ready.

Of course, the quality of the opposition is important to assess also but the youngster still stood out head and shoulders above any other player on the pitch and, it’s not a one-off either, his level of consistency and near-uniformity of performance is astonishing, as is his level of commitment and determination – he tracks back and doesn’t slack off defensively either.

Obviously, the concern will always be placing too much pressure and expectation on him too soon – he is still very very young and inexperienced – but surely the sooner he starts to gain experience, the sooner he’ll gain the confidence that comes with it.

Fabregas made his debut aged 16 years and 177 days (the youngest ever first-team player for Arsenal) and Wilshere was 16 years and 329 days. Zelalem looks to be around that level now aged 16 years and I believe around 184 days. Is he ready for the first team next season?

I believe if it was judged purely on ability, the answer would be a definite and resounding ‘yes’ but his physicality is not quite mature yet – he is still physically a boy and would likely find it tough competing with full grown men week in week out.

However, Arsene Wenger probably wouldn’t have taken him on the tour if he didn’t believe or at least want to test whether or not he’s ready – I think the youngster’s given him reason enough to include him in his first-team plans next season.

He’s only going to get better and improve if he challenges himself – the Premier League would be a challenge and a tough one for him but playing reserve level football is not going to aid him in his development – he needs to step up. There are others waiting patiently in line – Thomas Eisfeld, Serge Gnabry, and Ryo – but this kid is something else. Perhaps a lone spell would give the player and the manager the best of both worlds.

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