Having already been named Arsenal‘s player of the month and received a maiden France call-up this season, Matteo Guendouzi has now made the final Golden Boy shortlist – and he is proving to be exactly that for the Gunners.
It’s fair to say there wasn’t too much fanfare surrounding the Frenchman when he was signed from FC Lorient just over a year ago, but he quickly became a favourite of both Unai Emery and the Arsenal faithful.
Emery likes him so much, in fact, that only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has made more appearances for the club since the Spaniard took over. A year on, Guendouzi is repaying that faith, and then some.
Prior to the arrival of Emery and Guendouzi, Arsene Wenger’s last decade or so at the club had been plagued by the lack of an all-action midfielder – a man who could pull off a sumptuous nutmeg one minute and put in a crunching challenge the next – basically, the next Patrick Vieira.
Many had tried, and many had failed. Abou Diaby looked promising but turned out to be made of glass, Cesc Fabregas and Santi Cazorla were great but not overly fond of getting stuck in, and these days, Granit Xhaka is a little too fond of getting stuck in – especially inside his own penalty area.
Guendouzi though appears to be the man to finally bring balance back to the force. The force being Arsenal’s inherently dodgy midfield, obviously.
Despite sitting pretty in third, it hasn’t been a vintage start to the season for the north Londoners. On average, they concede more shots than they take every game and have often looked on the verge of disaster. On those occasions, Guendouizi has been the one to step up and drag his team through it.
Against Spurs, he was everywhere, dropping deep to dictate the game, winning the ball in midfield and creating chances at the other end, shown by his glorious through-ball to set up Aubameyang for the equaliser. He was even unlucky not to score, denied only by the reflexes of Hugo Lloris.
It was the same story against Aston Villa. After being at fault for Villa’s opener and seeing his team go down to 10 men, Guendouzi came out for the second half like a man possessed.
With the team needing a goal urgently, he took matters into his own hands and danced into the opposition box to win a penalty and was also instrumental in the build-up to Calum Chambers’ winner.
Even against Manchester United, in what was, let’s be honest, a real sh*tshow of an affair, the Frenchman managed to stand out, albeit for different reasons.
After some very Arsenal defending from Sead Kolasinac, Guendouzi, much like every Arsenal fan watching, just lost it with his team-mate, screaming at him with all his might. Sometimes, that’s what’s needed.
Statistically, he is quite frankly the definition of “all-action”. Of those to play more than three games, he has made the most tackles per game of anyone in the squad and is behind only lookalike David Luiz and Ainsley Maitland-Niles in interceptions.
And he can make an impact going forward too. He has the second-highest pass completion in the side at 88% and comfortably betters midfield counterpart Lucas Torreira in both dribbles and key passes.
If stats aren’t your thing, just take a look at what he did to these three poor Azerbaijan players while playing for France Under-21s last week.
In the space of 10 seconds, he managed to display everything great about him – his physical strength, his quick feet, his steady passing and his willingness to be a bit of a b*stard, which, let’s be real, Arsenal have craved for quite a while now.
Look at this from Guendouzi. He’s full of confidence and it’s like nothing fazes him even in big games for Arsenal he seems like one of the leaders on the pitch yet he’s only 20 years old. pic.twitter.com/A05SDfD3B4
— GoonerViews (@GoonerViews) October 17, 2019
Granted, he’s not quite the finished product yet; he makes a fair few errors, he goes down a bit too easily for someone considered Vieira’s heir apparent and he often struggles in front of goal, as evidenced by the fact he’s only scored once for the club.
Still, the guy is 20. Can you really say you were the finished product at 20? Maybe at binge-drinking and playing FIFA, but not much else.
Admittedly, Arsenal have had many young midfielders show promise and ultimately fall short, whether due to injuries (Wilshere), attitude (Frimpong) or just being a bit crap (Denilson), but if Guendouzi can stay fit and firing, he may well what the Gunners have been waiting for after all these years.