Forgotten Arsenal star returns to first-team training after 16-month injury nightmare

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It’s been a long and difficult road back to fitness for Gedion Zelalem, but the forgotten Arsenal star has taken a big step forward in his recovery from a horror knee injury.

It seems a long time ago now that Zelalem burst onto the scene at Arsenal in such breathtaking style with his eye-catching performances as a 16-year-old during the pre-season tour to Asia in 2013.

At the time his displays saw him labelled by some as the next Cesc Fabregas, but Zelalem has never been up to live up that billing since – with injuries playing a major factor in his lack of progress.

Having finally made his senior debut for Arsenal in an FA Cup match against Coventry City in 2014, the United States youth star went on to feature in a Champions League match later that year before joining Rangers on loan in August 2015.

The midfielder spent the season north of the border and impressed as Rangers made it through to the Scottish cup final, even scoring in the penalty shoot-out as the Glasgow giants knocked out rivals Celtic in the semi-final.

Gedion Zelalem could leave Arsenal this month.

Another loan move followed in 2017, this time to Holland where Zelalem spent the second half of the campaign with VVV Venlo, who went on to win the Erste Divisie title.

But it was soon after that title success, that Zelalem was rocked by the injury that was to keep him out for 16 months.

The midfielder was away with his national team at the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup in South Korea when he ruptured the cruciate ligament in his right knee.

He started the first game of the tournament against Ecuador but was forced off after just 34 minutes of the 3-3 draw and has faced a torturous journey back ever since, one that has been beset by setbacks.

Arsenal took up an option on his contract, which meant his deal was extended to 2018 during his recovery, but problems have seen his return date pushed further back on several occassions.

In the last six weeks, however, Zelalem has taken steps forward having travelled with the Under-23s squad for a training camp in Germany, and now the midfielder has been given a big boost by Unai Emery.

With so many players away due to the international break, Zelalem is one of seven youngsters invited by Arsenal’s head coach to train with the first-team.

Zelalem, Emile Smith Rowe Tolaji Bola, Julio Pleguezuelo, Nathan Tormey, Robbie Burton and Charlie Gilmour, have all been taking part in this week’s sessions at London Colney along with the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and Hector Bellerin.

All will be hoping to catch the eye of Emery given the Europa League and Carabao Cup games start up soon after the international break, with Arsenal’s head coach expected to rotate his squad for those two competitions.

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