Arsene Wenger hails Gedion Zelalem
American fans hoping Arsenal teenager Gedion Zelalem will one day choose to play for the U.S. will get their first opportunity to watch him play for the Gunners on Saturday against the New York Red Bulls.
Zelalem will play in the preseason friendly at Red Bull Arena (5 p.m. ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN), Arsene Wenger said Thursday.
The 17-year-old midfielder was born in Germany but lived in the U.S. from ages 9 to 15 and is reportedly in the process of becoming an American citizen.
He also recently turned down an invitation to join the under-17 German national team in order to keep his international options open, and Wenger said he believes Zelalem would fit in perfectly with the Yanks.
"Gedion has the qualities that I believe are very important to give in the States because the national team I've seen," misses them, Wenger said.
"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."
Zelalem has made one appearance with Arsenal's senior team, as a substitute in an FA Cup victory in January, but Wenger said the upcoming season will still too soon for him to join the squad on a regular basis.
"I honestly think he has the talent to become a quality player, but that will be decided in the next two, three years because he has to show that he has the mental level required to be a top player, competitor," Wenger said.
"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."
Zelalem's quick, creative play has drawn comparisons to Julian Greeen, the 19-year-old German-American who scored for the U.S. in the dying moments of their World Cup campaign.
Saturday's match will show a mix of generations, as the young Zelalem could face off against Arsenal legend and current Red Bulls player Thierry Henry, who said he has high hopes for Zelalem's future.
"Everybody knows him. Quality, good on the ball, great vision," Henry said. "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."