Arsenal were missing one key man against Manchester United – Granit Xhaka – and his absence was keenly brought to light by Matteo Guendouzi.
Arsenal have been finding consistency and strength in one consistent theatre of play – the midfield. While their defense has been flimsy and their attack has been flourishing, but, in ways, inconsistent, the midfield has been firm, and given them a sturdy base to rely on.
That base was tested against Manchester United, as the Gunners were without key man Granit Xhaka. In his stead, they deployed 19-year-old Matteo Guendouzi along side Lucas Torreira and, from the moment the match began, you could see that it wasn’t going to be the same.
Torreira still did his part, as I imagine he will perpetually do, given his nature as a player, but Guendouzi was… well… not Granit Xhaka.
Guendouzi was incredibly loose with the ball, as he was dispossessed four whole times, which was tied for tops on the team with Aubameyang.
You could tell his mind was in the right place, as he touched the ball more than anyone else, he made himself available and he was intent on driving the ball forward, but in the end, his shortcoming was simply that of experience.
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Xhaka has become such a key, understated figure in the middle of the pitch, doing exactly what Guendouzi tried to do, that sometimes it’s easy to forget how important he is (well, not for me, but for all you other people out there).
It’s all the simple things that Xhaka does that Guendouzi hasn’t grasped how to do just yet. Simple things like retaining then ball, slowing things down, and, perhaps not so simply, breaking through lines of defense with a single pass.
Guendouzi made some pretty swell passes, but nothing like what we are used to seeing from Xhaka. And with Xhaka, it’s just a side thought. We know he is going to do that, we depend on him for it. Such that when he isn’t there, the weapons he provides are tough to replace.
Guendouzi’s head and heart are in the right place. That much is clear. He just doesn’t have the faculties that Xhaka has yet. But that doesn’t mean they won’t come. In fact, from what we are seeing already, it seems obvious enough that they will come.
And, on the bright side, when they do come, we know that he is already faster than Xhaka. So there’s that to look forward to.