Gedion Zelalem has not let high expectations distract him from playing his best football for Arsenal Under-21s.
The highly-rated playmaker became the first Arsenal player to to be born after Arsene Wenger took charge in last season’s FA Cup, and made his Champions League debut at Galatasaray in December.
Zelalem has not been in the first-team squad since then but has trained with Wenger’s side regularly, and the 18-year-old says he has no problem managing people’s expectations.
"People are seeing that Ozil is a top-class player who does work very hard. Like him, my strengths are creating chances, through balls, getting the ball moving, playing one-touch football"
“Maybe I would have liked to be involved in the first team more but that’s my personal expectations, not really what people are saying from the outside,” he told Arsenal.com.
“I don’t really pay any attention to them. Sometimes being relaxed helps me on the pitch but then sometimes people get the wrong image of me and think I’m too relaxed and not working hard enough. I am really trying all the time.”
Zelalem has the luxury of learning from some of world football's finest playmakers and he pays particular attention to Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla.
"People are seeing that Ozil is a top-class player who does work very hard. Like him, my strengths are creating chances, through balls, getting the ball moving, playing one-touch football.
“In the youth teams, sometimes I like to play No 10 but when I’m training with the first team I like to play No 8 to get the ball moving, play one-twos and pass a bit more.
“Sometimes I take more than one touch but other players I look up to are Andres Iniesta, Marco Verrati, Cesc Fabregas - players who dictate the game and are responsible for everything that happens in the game.
“However, Santi Cazorla is probably the player I look up to the most because on the ball he is the best I have ever seen. I look at his game and try to learn as much as possible.”
Zelalem’s next test will be to help the young Gunners bounce back from three consecutive defeats, against West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday.
“It’s part of our development to recover from defeat because we’re still young,” he said. “When we make that step up to the first team it’s all about results and how you bounce back from those negative results is very important.
“We played West Brom at the beginning of the season and we won 4-2. We have to bounce back really quickly because we started so slowly against Aston Villa, so we have to start the first half on the front foot.”
Arsenal Under-21s face West Bromwich Under-21s on Tuesday. Kick-off is at 1pm (UK time) and there will be live updates on the @Arsenal Twitter page from 12.55pm.
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