Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
HARRISON, N.J. — You can add Thierry Henry to the list of people that are high on Arsenal prospect and potential U.S. Men’s National Team player Gedion Zelalem.
Henry and his New York Red Bulls are set to play host to Arsenal on Saturday in a rare stateside friendly for the Premiership club. Zelalem, a talented 17-year-old midfielder, has been included in the Gunners’ 20-man roster for that match but not many observers have seen enough of him to really have an opinion on just how good he is and if he is as promising as U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has stated.
Ever the avid Arsenal supporter, Henry is quite up to date on the happenings at the club. He is familiar with Zelalem and believes the youngster is the real deal.
“Quality, good on the ball, great vision,” said Henry of Zelalem during a press conference on Thursday. “Everybody’s talking about him. It’s not an easy place to break into the first squad, Arsenal, but he has the quality and the right boss to make sure that he can do it. Hopefully for us, as an Arsenal fan, he can perform and be a great player for us.”
The French striker was not the only player to shower praise on Zelalem, who was born in Germany to Ethiopian parents but might be eligible for U.S. citizenship after spending some of his formative years living in Washington D.C.
Arsenal head coach Arsene Wenger also gushed about the youngster, raving about the qualities Zelalem possesses and adding that he could be ready to contribute in Premier League play as soon as next season.
“I honestly think he has the talent to become a quality player, but that will be decided in the next 2-3 years because he has to show that he has the mental level required to be a top player, competitor,” said Wenger. “Today, it’s too early for him to play for us but I would say in one year we will know more about him. Maybe if it all goes well in six months, but just now, he’s not completely ready to start in the Premier League.
“But he’s with us and he practices with us a lot and we have high expectations for him.”
Zelalem will do more than just practice with the Gunners this week, if things go according to plan. Wenger intends to use the midfielder who is on a first-team contract in some capacity in Saturday’s match at Red Bull Arena, which will help Zelalem to developer further while also giving fans around the world a glimpse of the immense potential that he possesses.
“He will play on Saturday,” said Wenger. “Gedion has the qualities that I believe are very important to give in the States, because the national team I’ve seen (is missing them). He’s a creative player and he can create a spark, an opening with his pass, with his vision through the eyes and if he manages to build up his physique and his qualities, he can be a very important player. Let’s hope he will do it.”