The US Under-23 international midfielder got his first extended taste of senior football on loan at Rangers last season.
Zelalem, 19, has been billed as one of Arsenal’s top prospects since rising through the academy ranks to make his professional debut in January 2014, even earning comparisons to former club captain Cesc Fabregas in the past.
However, the German-born US Under-23 international has so far struggled to establish himself in Arsene Wenger’s squad and, after making just one further appearance for the Gunners following his first-team bow, spent all of last season on loan at Rangers in the Scottish second tier.
Nevertheless, he is now spending preseason with the senior setup after getting some valuable experience north of the border and hopes to do enough to assure Wenger that he is ready to cope with the pace and physicality of Premier League football.
Asked before Thursday’s game against the MLS All-Stars about whether he will stay at the Emirates Stadium this term or head out on loan again in the coming weeks, Zelalem told MLSSoccer.com: “I don’t know. I’m just trying to train hard every day and then see what comes. After the tour, [I’ll] sit down with the boss and see what’s best for my development.
“I think I’m good enough to play in [the Premier League]. I’m just hoping to get that chance.”
Zelalem featured 28 times for Rangers during last season’s loan spell, recording eight assists, but a series of niggling injuries over the second half of the campaign meant his impact was more limited than hoped.
The diminutive playmaker certainly enjoyed his time at Ibrox, though, and firmly believes that he is now far better equipped to compete for minutes back in north London.
“It helped me a lot playing in front of 50,000 every week. Just being a first-team player,” Zelalem told MLSSoccer.com. “The big media [contingent and pressure] around Scotland is massive as well. I learned a lot. On the pitch as well, to play quicker and it helped me physically.
“If I’m going to grow, I’m going to grow. Eventually it will happen. I wouldn’t say it’s frustrating. It’s part of football. Everyone has their own little thing that they need to work on, and that’s one of them.”