Having burst onto the scene with Arsenal at a similar age to a current club prospect, Jack Wilshere believes teammate Gedion Zelalem can make his first-team breakthrough this season.
One of the club’s brightest young talents, the 17-year-old has been right in the mix with the senior squad in pre-season, starting the club’s weekend match-up against New York Red Bulls having also appeared in their opening game of the summer against Boreham Wood.
While manager Arsene Wenger recently moved to cool the hype surrounding the midfielder's first-team prospects for at least the immediate future, Wilshere believes he could be set for a big 2014-15 having seen his undoubted potential on numerous occasions in training.
"Yeah. He's going to be in and around it [the first-team]. He was in and around it last year, he made his debut," he told reporters after Saturday’s friendly against the Red Bulls.
"He's a great kid, and the main thing is he is willing to learn, to listen, he's respectful. He talks to us and ask questions about what he thinks he should be doing.
"And the main thing is his ability, that's the key thing with him. He's got so much ability he can be what he wants. He has to get a little bit stronger but that ability will take him through.
"He's still really young so you have to give him a chance to develop physically and he is going to be training with players of high quality every week, so he's only going to improve.
"I think, as well, that he just enjoys it." Wilshere added. "He's just one of those kids who enjoys playing football and just wants to get out there and do his thing. He played on the right wing today, which is probably not his strongest position, but he did the job that the manager asked him to play. So he's learning to positions as well."
Born in Germany, Zelalem grew up in Berlin playing for Hertha BSC’s academy until moving to the US in 2006, where he was eventually spotted by ex-Arsenal player and now scout Danny Karabassiyoon.
Officially signing with the Gunners upon turning 16 in January last year, the German under-17 international has made a rapid ascent through the club’s youth system, establishing himself as a regular in the under-21 side during the 2013-14 campaign, while even making his first-team debut in their fifth-round FA Cup tie against Coventry City.
Putting pen to paper on a new long-term deal in March, Zelalem clearly has an extremely bright future at Arsenal ahead of him, though whether he can replicate Wilshere’s early Premier League breakthrough is yet to be determined.
Will Zelalem make his first-team breakthrough this season?