Jan 3, 2014
Arsène Wenger planning shock selection in FA Cup as Arsenal prepare for visit of north London rivals
Arsène Wenger is considering calling on the latest Arsenal wonder kid, Gedion Zelalem, for Saturday’s FA Cup tie against north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur .
Zelalem is not 17 until Jan 26 and has yet to sign his first professional contract with Arsenal, but could be part of Wenger’s squad for the third-round visit of Spurs.
The gifted midfielder has already been on the substitutes’ bench, against Spurs and Fulham in the Premier League early this season, but was then sidelined for two months through injury.
He returned for Arsenal Under-21s in November and an impressive performance against Manchester United Under-21s on Dec 20 convinced Wenger to promote Zelalem to train with the first team again.
Wenger has injury problems in midfield, with Aaron Ramsey out, Mesut Özil unlikely to be risked and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain still not ready to make a playing return. Jack Wilshere played two games in four days against Newcastle and Cardiff, and may need a rest.
A number of Arsenal insiders rate Zelalem as highly as Cesc Fabregas at a similar age and have tipped him to quickly force his way into the first team.
The youngster has made youth appearances for Germany and is of Ethiopian descent. He moved from Germany, where he had been part of Hertha Berlin’s academy, to the United States in 2006.
Arsenal scout Danny Karbassiyoon spotted Zelalem playing in a Dallas Cup match for Olney Rangers.
“I don’t listen to any hype or anything like that,” said Zelalem. “I just listen to my parents and the people around me who love me. They keep me grounded, so it’s fine.
“I have really high expectations for myself, so, hopefully, I might be able to make a few appearances this season. “But I’m still very young, so I have a lot of work to do. I will keep working hard and stay positive all the time.”
Despite Wenger considering more changes for the Spurs clash, Theo Walcott insists every north London derby is massive — no matter whether it is in the league or cup.
“These games, you still wake up in the morning thinking about them,” said Walcott, who has scored five goals in his last five games.
“The first fixture I always look at is Tottenham.
“Every time Tottenham come here or we go there, you want to put 100 per cent in, and more, if you can. These are massive games, the games everyone wants to be part of.
“We’ve had a busy festive period going into the new year and everyone needs to recover well, which we have been doing. Hopefully players can come back now but Tottenham, we’ve got to be right up for that. I can’t wait for that game at all.”
Tottenham have improved under new head coach Tim Sherwood and secured a shock victory against Manchester United at Old Trafford on New Year’s Day.
But Arsenal are also in good form and remain top of the Premier League table.
Asked if it is a tricky time to face Spurs, Walcott replied: “I think it’s going to be a bad time to play us as well. For the neutrals, it’s going to be a very interesting battle. The FA Cup is always special, for me, being English as well. I love it.
“I can’t call it. It’s one of those games that’s going to be very open, I’m pretty sure of that.
“Tottenham, since their new appointment, they’ve done very well. But, like I say, they won’t want to play us. And it’s at the Emirates. We’re trying to make our stadium into a fortress and we are starting to do that.”