For the second consecutive year, U.S. youth international Gedion Zelalem has been loaned by Arsenal to a second division European club raising doubts about the 20-year-old’s future.
Last year it was Glasgow’s Rangers, this year Zelalem has landed in the Netherlands with Eerste Divisie table toppers Venlo, a significant step down from Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund, a rumored suitor linked with the Arsenal midfielder earlier in the transfer window.
As far back as 2015 since replaced U.S. MNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann said of Zelalem, “I think he is already on the level where he can definitely play on the senior team,” calling the German-born prospect, “a special case.”
And that was before Zelalem declared for the U.S. MNT. Landing Zelalem, who was eligible for Ethiopia through his father, as well as Germany, his birthplace, was considered a major coup for Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer but the wispy midfielder’s career has since stalled.
Zelalem has been unable to crack Arsenal’s deep midfield after raising hopes on both sides of the Atlantic with his debut in an F.A. Cup tie versus Coventry all the way back in 2014.
Despite that early promise Zelalem has yet to make his Premier League debut and can point to just 10 appearances in Cup play for the Gunners.
Zelalem’s foray north to Rangers was rated as something of a mixed bag, but consider that Emerson Hyndman has already matched Zelalem’s one goal total from 21 games in just two appearances and the Bournemouth loanee is playing in the Scottish Premiership.
Still, Zelalem was expected to battle for first team minutes at the Emirates this season, instead, his only first team action came in a pair of EFL Cup matches.
Now it is on to the Netherlands. With Dutchman Andries Jonker at the helm of its Academy, the Netherlands has become something of an incubator for young Gunners, with Zelalem becoming the fifth Arsenal prospect loaned to the Lowlands nation this year.
The style of play in the Netherlands seems better suited to the American internationals game than the more robust Scottish game but with Venlo aiming for promotion to the Eredivisie, Zelalem will have to produce.
As his U20 U.S. teammates, Matt Miazga and Emerson Hyndman can attest there are no guarantees in big time soccer. None of this means that Zelalem won’t eventually make his way at Arsenal, he signed an extension shortly before this loan, but that U.S. MNT senior debut looks farther off than ever, making these next months perhaps the most important of Gedion Zelalem’s career.