Arsenal CEO gives rare update on progression of Gedion Zelalem

Gedion Zelalem

Arsenal's chief executive Ivan Gazidis is attempting to play down the hype over Gedion Zelalem.

Arsenal's chief executive Ivan Gazidis has given a rare interview regarding the future of teenager Ivan Gazidis, speaking to Sports Illustrated.

Gazidis was speaking to the American outlet, who have a particular interest in his development, after The Mail reported in December that Zelalem had chosen to represent USA ahead of Germany at international level.

Zelalem turned 18 in January, and has already made his first team debut for the Gunners, doing so a year earlier against Coventry in the FA Cup, while he was an unused substitute in the Premier League at 16.

The hype surrounding him seemed to begin when The Mirror described him as the next Cesc Fabregas in 2013 ahead of his under-21 debut, and then he was named on Arsenal's pre-season tour of Asia the same summer, and instantly impressed, providing an assist for Theo Walcott in a friendly match.

He was talked up by club legend and record scorer Thierry Henry last summer, who told Arsenal.com Zelalem has the attributes to become an important player for the club.

Zelalem is still a way off becoming a first team regular, and Arsenal are clearly keen to protect the midfielder from the hype around him.

Speaking to SI, Gazidis said: "You have to temper this because you are always looking for the next big star, and I've been guilty of this myself. Gedion is an exciting young talent, he's got German heritage, and speaks like an American kid.

"Right at this moment he's not the finished product. He's very much got a lot of development to do. He's focused on doing that. There's something exciting there, but lets not get things ahead of themselves.

"Gedion's training with and against some of the best young players in the world. He steps up every now and again with the first team, the level he's got to get to. He's got an understanding there's a lot of competition and a long way to go."

Protecting Zelalem at this point is key for his development, especially with the interest from the US. It's almost two years ago since he first began to be talked up, and even becoming a regular next season looks beyond him at this stage.

He has a slight frame which has slowed down his progress, with Arsene Wenger rightly reluctant to put a player in unless he is physically up to the rigours of English football. It's also telling he has not been sent out on loan yet.

This season he has played 12 under-21 games, with two assists, and six under-19 games, with one goal and one assist. The highlight was being picked to play for 45 minutes in the Champions League against Galatasaray in December.

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