Matteo Guendouzi has proven to be a divisive figure at Arsenal of late. In a roller-coaster season for Arsenal, the young Frenchman’s year has reflected the ups and downs in a disappointing campaign. Since Mikel Arteta’s arrival, Guendouzi has only started two league games, having started fourteen straight games at the beginning of the season under Unai Emery. Guendouzi’s shift from guaranteed starter to squad player is representative of a drop in form and Arteta’s decision to look for different attributes in his midfield. The Gunners’ golden boy only five months ago seemed to be approaching a crossroads relatively early in his career. The undoubtedly hot prospect must be aware of a need to play first team football for his development, but see the potential road blocks ahead of him at the Emirates, which leaves his future up in the air.
Guendouzi has found a starting spot hard to come by in 2020. Granit Xhaka has been Arteta’s first option in midfield, with a revitalised Lucas Torreria alongside him in to begin with, and Dani Ceballos more recently. The three above bring distinct qualities to the table that Arteta admires – Xhaka with his passing ability from deep, Torreia’s defensive discipline, and Ceballos’ ability to unlock defences. It has been unclear what Guendouzi brings to fit into the Arteta system. The Frenchman has failed to score in the Premier League during his time in England and only registered one assist, his 33% shooting accuracy emphasising his lack of end product. A 55% tackle success ratio in the league highlights his defensive vulnerability and his lack of positional discipline has been an issue for the player since he arrived at Arsenal. There is significant room for improvement and he’ll need competitive game time to do so; with three players ahead of him, that could be limited.
It is also looking likely that central midfield is a priority for Arteta in the transfer market, raising more doubt about the manager’s faith in Guendouzi. Arteta has looked to his native Spain and highlighted Atletico Madrid enforcer Thomas Partey, and Valencia playmaker Carlos Soler as potential signings. Lyon youngster Houssem Aouer has also been linked in recent days. Strong reports of midfield additions at Arsenal will only push Guendouzi further down the pecking order.
Mikel Arteta strongly outlined his ‘non-negotiables’ on and off the pitch upon his arrival at Arsenal, standards of which Guendouzi has failed to meet at times this season. After a training ground bust-up with Guendouzi at the Dubai winter training camp, Arteta was coy in his explanation for his absence from the squad in the next game, but hinted at disciplinary issues. A big cross against Guendouzi’s name in the midfield battle.
‘It was about the way we train, the way we play, the way we live. I want the best players for the game and I select them in relation to what I see on a daily basis. I just make my team selection and the squad is selected in regards to how they play, how they train and how they behave.’Mikel Arteta on Matteo Guendouzi’s exclusion from the Arsenal squad (23/02/2020)
Guendouzi has had his bright moments under Arteta. He played very well in the 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge and has brought energy to the side in his substitute appearances. Arteta’s use for him further up the pitch frees him of defensive responsibility and allows him to press high, useful for when Arsenal are trying to see out a game. And time is certainly on his side. Guendouzi’s prominence in the first team under Emery makes it easy to forget he is still only nineteen.
It seems that Arteta only considers Guendouzi a squad player for now, and he does not fit into the manager’s ideal system. His potential is undeniable and Arsenal will be aware of his value. But he is a player that will want to play and will need to do so for his development. If Arteta is looking to add to his midfield when the transfer window opens, and Guendouzi’s opportunities are limited, a loan seems the obvious option. To sell seems rash and could be a decision that Arsenal regret in years to come. But another year of cup appearances and league cameos with Arteta’s Arsenal will halt the progress of Arsenal’s golden boy.
Header photo: Amir Hosseini, 2019