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Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool have taken the Premier League by storm this season, with all three having gone unbeaten in their first 12 games. Creeping up behind them, however, are Arsenal, who sit fifth with seven wins, three draws and two losses, having narrowly lost out to Manchester City and Chelsea before salvaging a draw at home to Liverpool. It was an extremely tough start for the Gunners, with their forwards often having to come to the rescue, lending themselves heavily to the side’s 26 league goals this campaign, with the defensive side, disappointingly letting in 15 already this season.
The midfield, however, has been hugely impressive under the guidance of enigmatic new manager Unai Emery, and keeping the midfield ticking has been one man in particular. Summer signing Matteo Guendouzi has been influential so far for the Gunners since his arrival from French side Lorient, with his tenacity and composure in midfield often inspiring those around him to bring all three points home.
The 19-year-old has already shown maturity beyond his years with his performances to date, none more so than in the 2-0 loss at Manchester City on the opening day of the season, where the young Frenchman was faced with the most daunting of debuts. Those closely associated with Arsenal were strongly suggesting that the teenager be eased into the club with a stint in the Under 23 side, yet after impressing in pre-season, Emery had seen enough, and threw Guendouzi in at the deep end with a first ever Premier League start against defending champions City and their attacking trio of Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez.
Not only did Guendouzi hold his own, but moreover conveyed several signs of promise in a difficult opening game for the Gunners, owning the ball in the centre of midfield with 72 touches, the most of any Arsenal player. Both Emery and the supporters were convinced and counted their blessings at the fact that the 19-year-old had chosen the North London club in the summer, ignoring the advances of both Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain.
Guendouzi had indeed spent the majority of his youth playing in the French capital, but made the move to Lorient, firstly representing Lorient B before turning out for the first team on a regular basis. His somewhat passionate character then came to the fore in the latter stages of the 2017/18 campaign in France, and after falling out with manager Mikael Landreau, a young and exciting Parisian prospect was snapped up by Emery without hesitation. Brave both on and off the pitch, Guendouzi must now feel at home under the guidance of his Spanish manager, with the two sharing the same desire and passion for the game.
Standing at just over six foot, Guendouzi holds a certain formidability in the midfield and undoubtedly has an eye for a pass having a pass completion rate of 88.15% from his 405 passes so far in the league, along with his 502 touches that have come from every corner of the pitch. Former coaches in France have described the number 29 as a defensive midfielder with an attacking mindset, and his abilities at both ends of the pitch have certainly been on display, with 21 tackles, 13 interceptions and five aerial battles won from his nine league appearances so far.
One noticeable and negative feature of Guendouzi’s game has, however, been his discipline, with the deep-lying defensive midfielder having already picked up two yellows in the league this season. A reckless sending off against Blackpool in the League Cup also needlessly put his side in danger with much of the game still to play, and so his temperament – understandable for such a young player in a strange environment – must be ironed out if his progression is to continue.
Fortunately, his displays have not gone unnoticed, with Guendouzi making his debut and playing the full 90 minutes for the France U21 side in their latest international friendly draw with Croatia, having previously scored one goal in his three games for the U20 national team. Having chosen his native France over an opportunity to represent Morocco, the teenager once again demonstrated tremendous bravery and self-confidence to believe that he has what it takes to find a place within the hugely talented midfield of the world champions, but if it continues to develop under the perfect manager in Unai Emery, he may not have long to wait.