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Gedion Zelalem 'good enough' for the Premier League after Rangers loan

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Arsenal and U.S. youth international Gedion Zelalem praised the impact that his loan spell at Rangers has had on his development.

Zelalem made 28 league and cup appearances with the Scottish side last season, helping the club gain promotion to the Scottish Premier League, as well as reach the Scottish Cup final, where Rangers fell to Hibernian 3-2.

"It helped me a lot, playing in front of 50,000 [fans] every week," said Zelalem about his time with Rangers. "Just being a first-team player, the big media press around Scotland was massive as well. I learned a lot on the pitch, to play quicker. It helped physically as well. I'm happy with it."

As a result, Zelalem feels he is a much better equipped to contribute to the Gunners this season.

"I'm just more confident in my ability," he said. "I'm good enough to play in [the Premier League]. I'm just hoping to get that chance."

And he may get that chance. Goalkeeper Petr Cech has been impressed by the midfielder in preseason, and could foresee Zelalem featuring for the Gunners' first team this season.

"He's one of those players who isn't afraid to try things on the pitch," Cech told ESPN FC in an exclusive interview. "If he makes a mistake or loses the ball trying some technical skill, he's not afraid to do it again.

"Obviously he has this freedom and the technical ability to play with the ball and I think this is his main strength. Obviously as he gets more experience, it will help him to make the right choices and I believe he has a very big potential to make the team."

However, it seems likely that Zelalem will be loaned out again. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger hinted strongly that would be the case during Tuesday's news conference, noting that the 19-year-old needed to mature a bit more physically. Zelalem said his focus is on preseason, and Thursday's exhibition against the MLS All-Stars (7:30 ET, ESPN) in particular.

After making 21 appearances with Rangers en route to promotion to the Scottish Premier League, Gedion Zelalem says he's ready for the Premier League with Arsenal.

"I'm just trying to train hard every day and then see what comes," he said. "After the tour I'll sit down with the boss and see what's best for my development."

As for Thursday's game, he added, "I watched all of them play when I was younger. David Villa in the World Cup. [Andrea] Pirlo, he was a legend for Italy and all the clubs he's played for so I'm definitely looking forward to it. "

Zelalem said that he hadn't spoken recently to U.S. U-20 manager Tab Ramos about being included in the squad that will try to qualify for the 2017 U-20 World Cup next winter. He has been in occasional contact with U.S. national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann.

"[Klinsmann] texts me sometimes, saying, good luck in games," he said. "He wished me luck tomorrow as well. We talk occasionally."

Given his time at Arsenal, Zelalem has been viewed as one of the great hopes of the U.S. youth system. That kind of hype has sunk more than a few U.S. youth players, but Zelalem said he doesn't feel burdened by such expectations.

"I don't feel [the pressure of being an American soccer prodigy], I like it," he said. "It makes me more confident in my ability."

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

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