When Arsenal signed a 19-year-old David Luiz lookalike for a sizeable £8million fee, I and most Arsenal fans scratched their heads and wondered if Sven Mislintat was taking us for a ride. Add to the equation that he was signed from Ligue 2 side Lorient and literally no one had any hope whatsoever for Unai Emery’s fifth signing of the summer. Many thought he’d be shafted to the U23s, but how wrong were we…
It’s hard to believe that Mattéo Guendouzi is still only 20 years old as he’s been an absolute revolution for Unai Emery this season. From being a potential U23s squad player to starting the opening games of the season against reigning Champions Manchester City and Chelsea.
Now I’ll put my hands up, I’d never heard of the Frenchman before he was linked to Arsenal, but over the past eight months, I feel like I’ve seen enough to make a level-headed assessment of his playing ability. Since joining in the summer, the 20-year-old has made 46 appearances, with 34 of them being starts.
Of course, as a young player at a big club, Guendouzi’s first season was never going to be perfect. In fact, in recent months he’s started fewer games as his performance levels have seemingly dropped. Despite his significant talent at a young age, the 20-year-old notably struggles with not being aware of his surroundings.
He seems to believe that he has more time on the ball than he does, I suppose this can be put down to adjusting to the ferocity of the English Premier League. The Frenchman’s lack of pace or strength has also not fared well in England, with the midfielder regularly getting shoved off the ball in vulnerable situations. It’s these lapses in concentration that the youngster needs to iron out of his game if he’s to become a world-class PL midfielder.
What separates Mattéo Guendouzi from the others in his age range, is his wide passing range. The Frenchman simply does not opt for the easy pass to the full-back on his left or right, he always seeks to pass through the lines. Despite playing more risky passes, he’s still managed to average an impressive 88.1% passing accuracy this season. It’s this kind of aggressive passing that has helped Arsenal break down low-block defences throughout the campaign.
Sometimes the youngster even runs at low-block defences in hope that it destabilises their organisation. Such is the exuberance of his youth, the 20-year-old is always looking to try new things especially when his teammates are lacking in ideas. He’s a young leader with a massive future ahead of him.
For what he lacks in physicality, Guendouzi certainly makes up for in bravery. The youngster is not scared to go toe to toe with the league’s best midfielders in a foot race or combative duel. He may not always win those duels, but it’s that courage that best embodies Unai Emery’s defensive philosophy.
In his first eight months at Arsenal, Mattéo Guendouzi has not only shown great promise but leadership and a mentality that many of his predecessors at the club have never possessed. It’s not a matter of if but when Unai Emery decides to build the team solely around him.