Arsenal ‘Rebel’ Guendouzi is having a tumultuous season at Hertha Berlin
Manager Mikel Arteta only wanted players “100% committed to our culture,” he said. The French midfielder was not, in Arteta’s view, among them.
His behaviour was wayward; more than Arteta needed on his plate as he tried to continue the reconstruction job that had begun well and would see them lift the FA Cup in August.
Guendouzi had reportedly been getting on Arteta’s wick for months, but the straw that broke the camel’s back came in late June.
As Arsenal lost to Brighton at the Amex, the 21-year-old was accused of taunting Brighton players about their salaries, causing Brighton’s Neil Maupay to say the Gunners needed to learn a bit of “humility” in his post-match interview.
Guendouzi refused to apologise to Arsenal’s coaching staff for such unbecoming conduct, and he was cast out of the squad.
Not all Arsenal fans were happy – many wanted Arteta to try to rebuild bridges with a player who clearly has immense talent. But Arteta’s word was final and Guendouzi was made available for loan.
Hertha Berlin, in the middle of an ambitious and well-funded rebuilding project, were the club to step in, looking to the Frenchman to fill a gap in their midfield on the recommendation of Per Mertesacker.
So how has it been going for Guendouzi in the German capital? The answer is a predictable mix of explosive talent and explosive temper.
When Guendouzi made the move, he told Telefoot: “I needed to have fun on the pitch, to regain confidence”. And early doors, it seemed that he was doing just that.
Hertha had started the season poorly, but after the Arsenal loanee’s arrival things picked up slightly. Between November 1 and December 15, Bruno Labbadia’s side lost only once.
Guendouzi was an ever-present during that run, and in a 1-1 draw with Borussia Monchengladbach at the start of December, he curled a terrific finish into the top corner from the edge of the penalty area to bag his first goal in over two years.
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At the time, Labbadia waxed lyrical about his new signing, praising not only his technique but his leadership: “He is very, very valuable to us. We are happy that we were able to sign him.
“He’s a very, very good footballer, who has a good sense of space and is technically very strong. Even though he’s young, he gives instructions. He doesn’t care at all that he doesn’t speak the language.”
Hertha’s sporting director Arne Friedrich was equally positive: “He’s a fantastic player. We spoke to Arsenal before the transfer obviously, and I also spoke to Per Mertesacker, with whom I played in the national team. Our relationship is very honest, very transparent, and he had already said that he has such good quality and he’s showed it already.
“From the first day when [Guendouzi] came here to Germany onwards, he had to go into quarantine… I don’t know what happened, I think either him or someone else tested positive so he had to sit in the hotel for the first two weeks here in a brand new city.
“He was so professional and we brought him some gear, a bike to work on and he was really, really ambitious to get on the field as soon as possible. Ever since, every day he shows in practice what a good player he is.”
The compliments were flowing and so, clearly, was Guendouzi’s confidence. Two weeks later, he found the net again with another delightful goal, this time a little more placement and a little less power enough to help Hertha to a 3-0 win over Bundesliga whipping boys Schalke.
*extremely Milhouse voice*
Guendouzi is back! In good form! pic.twitter.com/1ZLRjxogCP
— FootballJOE (@FootballJOE) January 2, 2021
At that point, Arsenal fans might have felt a bit put out watching their player perform well away from the Emirates. But things soon began to deteriorate.
Three losses and a draw in the next four saw Hertha slump to 14th in the 18-team Bundesliga, one place above the relegation playoff spot. And in the last of those games, Guendouzi showed a glimpse of his short temper.
As the players emerged from the tunnel at half-time of their eventual 4-1 home defeat to fellow strugglers Werder Bremen, Guendouzi was caught on camera in the midst of a heated argument with Brazilian team-mate Matheus Cunha. The next day Labbadia and general manager Michael Preetz were dismissed.
At the time, Hertha chairman Carsten Schmidt said: “The return of 17 points from 18 games leaves us in a very precarious situation. After much deliberation, we feel that a change of head coach can give the team fresh impetus.”
Guendouzi tweeted expressing his thanks to Labbadia and Preetz for giving him “the opportunity to do what I love the most: play football,” and to welcome new head coach Pal Dardai. Yet Dardai’s arrival has not been all positive for him.
The midfielder started the new boss’ first game in charge – another loss to Eintracht Frankfurt – but was dropped for the second at home to Bayern Munich.
In between the two matches, Guendouzi had been interviewed by US outlet Oh My Goal and, in the middle of a run of four consecutive losses with Hertha, somehow judged it the perfect opportunity to make comments that, whether sincere or not, he must have known would be construed as a dig at his parent club and its current head coach.
Asked who the best manager he had worked under was, he replied “Unai Emery.” And when asked for the best player he’s played with, his immediately picked Mesut Ozil, saying: “Whether he’s on the pitch during the match or on the training ground, he has a technical ease, he reads the game better than everyone else.”
Guendouzi was back in the starting XI for the match that followed the Bayern loss, a 1-1 draw with Stuttgart, but was out again for Hertha’s most recent fixture with RB Leipzig, new signing and German World Cup winner Sami Khedira preferred to him in central midfield.
When Khedira tired and Guendouzi eventually got on, it couldn’t have gone much worse. Three minutes after joining the action, Guendouzi was put under pressure in his own penalty area, threw himself to the floor and had the ball nicked off his toe.
Nordi Mukiele thanked him by smashing the ball into the net, making it 2-0 to Leipzig and condemning Hertha to an eighth game without a win.
Diving in your own box is a bold move, as Matteo Guendouzi showed here.pic.twitter.com/wR7hhdGgDN
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) February 21, 2021
After the game, Dardai was less than impressed, telling Bild: “In training, I always stop these kind of duels because you can’t fall to the ground like this.”
Channelling his inner surrealist, Dardai added: “It’s like puberty for him, he’s kind of a rebel. He has to work and learn like an animal.”
How Guendouzi reacts to those comments – whether he is ready to “learn like an animal” – remains to be seen, but with Khedira now in the squad and getting back to match sharpness, the Frenchman may well see his opportunities limited for the rest of the season.
If Guendouzi’s intention was to go away for a season in Germany and make an irresistible case for reintegration into the Arsenal, then things are not exactly going to plan.
How Dardai and Arteta handle him from here is anyone’s guess.
By Joshua Law.