Matteo Guendouzi came to Arsenal as an unknown name. He joined Arsenal from Ligue 2 side Lorient. Even the most optimistic Gooners didn’t expect him to become a first team mainstay under Unai Emery. The youngster went on to make 57 appearances for the North London side in the 2018-19 campaign. After more than 80 caps for the Gunners in less than two years it is time to find out how the 21 year old has fared in the famous red and white.
The famous phrase used by F1 race commentators at the start of every race best describes Guendouzi’s start to life at Arsenal. It was fast, exciting and also rash at times. In his debut match, he was responsible for giving an extra yard of space to Sterling who opened the scoring for Manchester City. For some reason, Matteo decided to not attempt a tackle on Sterling and it gave the City winger enough time and space to shoot. The exact same happened earlier in the ninth minute of the game and Sterling’s shot was saved by Cech. Minutes later, his backpass was almost put into the goal by Cech. Guendouzi was later at fault for letting Aguero 1v1 against Cech. In some ways, it was the worst possible start at a new club for any player. But, it’s important to realize the quality of the opposition. Pep Guardiola’s City were no ordinary side. They were Centurions of the first division.
In the 2018-19 season, Guendouzi and Xhaka were Emery’s preferred midfield pairing. Xhaka played on the left while Guendouzi featured on the right. As the season progressed, the 19 year old teenager grew into confidence and began showing his qualities. If you were to describe Matteo Guendouzi in one word then that word would be fearless. On multiple occasions he showed his aggressive nature which didn’t go down well with opposition fans but was highly appreciated by Gooners. One of the key reasons why Emery preferred a Xhaka-Guendouzi partnership in midfield was to provide extra protection to the defenders while also making the defense stronger. Sokratis was Arsenal’s most regular centre back who was first paired with Mustafi, then Holding and later with Koscielny. While Bellerin’s injury paved the way for Lichtsteiner in the playing eleven. Look closely and you realize the back four was slow which made it more vulnerable to fast counter attacks. It was no rocket science why Unai had to position two defensive midfielders in front of this back four.
The positioning dilemma
Guendouzi averaged 1.33 tackles, 0.9 interceptions, 5.06 recoveries, 0.7 clearance and 0.2 blocks per game in the 2018-19 Premier League campaign. These statistics may look promising for any 19 year old midfielder but they don’t look that impressive for a defensive midfielder in the world’s most competitive league. Under Emery, Guendouzi’s positioning was largely determined by Arsenal’s position in the game. He would defend deep if the club was hanging on a lead or push ahead if the side was trying to overcome a deficit. As a result, Guendouzi could not master either position on the pitch. Make no mistake, Guendouzi is versatile and can play both as a defensive midfielder and a central midfielder but he needs to excel at one.
One of the reasons why Emery preferred Guendouzi over Torreira in the defensive midfield role was versatility. Guendouzi’s attacking contribution to the team was higher than the latter’s despite being nowhere close to Torreira’s capabilities as a defensive midfielder. In the 2019-20 Premier League campaign, Guendouzi averaged 1.36 tackles, 1.2 interceptions, 4.7 recoveries, 1.45 clearances and 0.3 blocks per game. If you purely use statistics to draw a conclusion then there is some improvement in his game if not huge. However, what statistics fail to capture is his awareness and reaction to certain in-game situations. His composure has improved when compared to last season.
Matteo Guendouzi is a big puzzle for Mikel Arteta. At the moment, the youngster is third in the pecking order behind Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira. Will it change after the summer transfer window? Would Arteta trust Guendouzi to command his midfield if either of Xhaka or Torreira left? The Frenchman is a player too good to be sent on loan but would not be Arteta’s first choice midfielder either. Will he settle for a place on the bench? There is a realistic possibility of no European football at Arsenal in the 2020-21 season. The Europa League was a great competition for the club to test its youth players at a competitive level. Another important question is whether Arteta will continue using a 2 man midfield pairing or switch to a 3 man midfield trio? A switch to 4-3-3 could be Guendouzi’s best chance of getting more minutes at the club. Granit Xhaka is almost untouchable in Arteta’s current setup which leaves Torreira, Willock and Guendouzi vying for the other midfield slot.
Where does he play?
A switch to 4-3-3 could see Torreira sit at the base of the midfield trio and protect the back four with Xhaka and Matteo on his respective flanks. Xhaka’s positional movement on the left flank would allow Arsenal to continue creating a vertical overload on the left flank by pushing the left back deep into the opposition box. Guendouzi excels in an advanced number four role as he can link the defense to attack and launch an attack into the opposition box. Matteo isn’t your textbook defensive midfielder. He isn’t like any of the number eight we have seen either.
He is too conservative to be an out and out number eight and also too attack minded to be a pure number four.
He is a hybrid between the two positions and we should try to use his quality to our advantage. He can slot in as a defensive midfielder when we are hanging on to a lead and also switch to an attacking number eight when the team is trailing. Matteo Guendouzi came to Arsenal as an unknown 19 year old in 2018 but the upcoming 2020-21 season is very important for the French U21.
Matteo Guendouzi’s image is copyright of Arsenal FC and their club photographers. I do not claim/intend to claim copyright over the image in any form.
Matteo Guendouzi’s statistical chart is the original work of Tactical Bench and use of the same is permitted provided proper citation is given to Tactical Bench as the source.
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