Matteo Guendouzi’s call up to the French National Team seems like just rewards following his performance in the North London Derby. His first international cap, following an injury to Paul Pogba, marks a wonderful year for the youngster whose meteoric rise has shocked even the most optimistic of Arsenal supporters.
The precocious talent who was plucked from relative obscurity has endeared himself to the Arsenal faithful through a series of excellent performances. A combination of grit, skill and, as Robert Pires put it, a ‘warrior mentality’ has inspired many within the game to commend him on his recent performances.
Of course, this affection for Guendouzi has only gathered pace with the continued comedic stylings of Granit Xhaka who, at this point, must surely have an ongoing bet with Mustafi as to who can troll the Arsenal fans the most before finally getting released into the wilderness and told to find their own way back.
While it may have been his performance in the North London derby that inspired the most recent spat of articles and twitter threads, many football fans will have observed that the 20 year old has been quietly amassing a bulk of evidence to suggest he is a precious commodity.
Last year’s sideways passing has become more progressive and adventurous. A player who was averaging a yellow card at approximately one in every two starts is yet to be booked this season despite averaging more tackles. Even his forays into the opposition box look like they have more intent than last season when he looked like a man who had accidentally found himself in the lingerie department of a ladies’ clothing store.
Additionally, mistakes that previously permeated his game are becoming less frequent. He is less rash in his tackling and his penchant for falling to the ground isn’t quite what it used to be as he continues to fill out his wiry frame.
But what really sets Guendouzi apart is his willingness to take ownership of the ball. Despite the acquisition of Ceballos, the return of Torreira, the emergence of Willock and the likely captaining of Xhaka, Guendouzi has remained the only constant in the Arsenal midfield this season; and one would imagine that is due to his willingness to receive the ball under pressure. He has become integral to Arsenal’s style of play: dropping deep to pick up possession and cajoling opposing midfielders and attackers to press. Like a young matador, he taunts his challenger with a disregard for their presence, coaxing them to charge before dropping a shoulder and coming away unscathed to the delight of the Arsenal crowd and the frustration of his now red-faced opponent.
Despite these frolics with danger, Guendouzi is no showpony. His penchant for showmanship is matched by a steely demeanour and a new found maturity. To date, the youngster leads the way in interceptions per game, demonstrating a growing awareness in the importance of positioning. Furthermore, he is the highest tackling midfielder at the club.
Last year Emery was, rightly or wrongly, criticized for a number of abject performances. But one aspect of his management that garnered praise from the fans was his continued trust in Matteo Guendouzi. That trust seems to have continued this season as the Arsenal manager clearly believes the young midfielder can handle the pressure of the Premier League.
There is a fine line between matador and rodeo clown but Matteo Guendouzi has all that is needed to be a master bullfighter.
Til next time,
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Level-headed columnist who secretly gets excited by wildly improbable transfer guff. Optimistic Arsenal fan, keen writer and a passable centre half (on a good day).