Matteo Guendouzi’s combative nature is simultaneously endearing and frustrating, and right now it’s holding him back.
There have been a few choice games for Arsenal – Bournemouth away last season springs to mind – where Matteo Guendouzi has used his fire and vigor to control games and frustrate opponents. While he’s not the fastest player, nor the most technically sound, he’s incredibly frustrating to play against.
His quick temper and aggressive style of play mirror his flame-haired stance, and he’s as exuberant in his demonstrations upon being fouled (and often when he hasn’t been fouled), as he is dogged and resolute in defense. Complete and utter nightmare.
However, that knife has cut both ways in recent months. Since the Brighton loss, in which Guendouzi looked significantly unmotivated and left a sizable skidmark on his name with the infamous Neal Maupay incident, he’s been frozen out at Arsenal due to reported disciplinary issues.
The same issues, I might add, that allowed us to scoop him up from Lorient in the first place. We knew they would always be a hazard to his future, and Mikel Arteta‘s ‘my-way-or-the-highway‘ approach offers the Poissy-born midfielder an ultimatum: you turn the corner, or you’re done.
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And I think Arteta’s approach to the Frenchman is justified. While Matteo is a fantastically exciting talent, Arteta has reintroduced the rather amorphous idea of the ‘Arsenal spirit’ back to the club, a move which takes precedence over a single player. Effectively, being a part of Arsenal Football Club is about more than just on-field talent, it’s a statement of character.
And furthermore, we don’t need him. Since the fall of Unai Emery, he has not clicked as a key cog in the Arsenal machine, and we have not worsened. On the contrary.
Brighton loss aside, Arteta’s Arsenal fought tooth and nail for every point, especially after the restart. Like the Frenchman, the entire squad has demonstrated their ability to scrap and challenge and grind out results, but unlike him they’ve demonstrated tactical nous in terms of the system Arteta wants to play.
Positional discipline, especially the ability to read and cover a particular space rather than a specific positional role on the field, has taken tactical precedence under Arteta, and Guendouzi doesn’t particularly jive with that skillset. His lack of discipline often tugs him out of position in the center of the midfield, opening space for the opposition forwards, and providing one-on-one opportunities with what remains a rather immobile Arsenal backline.
Granit Xhaka typifies the transformation into the system. Despite being the least athletic and mobile member of the squad, he has adjusted to Arteta’s tactics, and bored himself a lasting place in the team. He’s also an exemplary demonstrator of how to overcome a public scandal and reinstitute yourself at a football club. Guendouzi would do well to follow his example.
At the end of the day, it’s up to the 21-year-old to determine his future at the club, and where he can be useful to the team. And the longer he holds out, the less useful he will be to Arsenal. It’s as simple as that.