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Guendouzi – Stick or Twist?

Arsenal’s squad in terms of youthful talent pushing through is in rude health.

Some of the starlets in our ranks are among the brightest we have seen at the club for some time. The likes of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith-Rowe represent a hopeful future for Arsenal that we can thrive when these kids really start to bloom.

Matteo Guendouzi could be mentioned among these names. The young Frenchman is very highly rated at the club and beyond, but it seems that he is missing one vital ingredient in order to rise above the average and really strike it at the top.

That is humility.

Guendouzi, as I write, is currently training alone after his spat with Neil Maupay of Brighton. His comments toward the Gulls striker revolved around money and how Brighton’s number nine would never be able to earn what Matteo is currently on at Arsenal.

It indicates two things. One, that Guendouzi is prioritising the wrong thing and two? He really needs to put the effort he uses to annoy opponents into his football.

Since then, we have seen stories, or ‘leaks’ circulating around Guendouzi’s attitude at former clubs and of an apparent bust-up with Sokratis at our Dubai training camp earlier this year.

Now we may or may not ever know the truth about his run-in with our Greek defender, but his behaviour at his former club Lorient is a very good gauge of who the boy is behind the player as it is verified information.

His former manager at Lorient, Bernard Casoni, spoke to the media this week and had this to say:

Guendouzi’s problem is not physical and is not technical. It’s his attitude, it’s not good for the team or the coach. My relationship with him was not very good.”

“I chose him for a cup match against Nice but he was booked very early. The referee told me at half-time to warn Guendouzi: one more fault and off we go, but in the second half nothing changed. I had no choice but to master it. When I did, he refused to shake my hand.”

Most tellingly, Casoni finished with this, “He took his job seriously, his training was no problem and his character is to always want to win.

“Sometimes when he talks it’s good. But sometimes he speaks badly. He talks too much.

“His talent is not in question, this is not the problem. He can be a top player and I think he can still be successful abroad. It is up to him to change his attitude.”

Guendouzi featured heavily under Unai Emery, playing 33 times in our PL campaign alone. This season though, has been a stop-start campaign for Matteo, and early under Arteta, Guendouzi found squeezing his way into the team a tough ask.

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The balance of Xhaka and Ceballos has no doubt not helped Guendouzi’s quest for minutes, but it seems that Arteta is not keen on the Frenchman staying at the club. Perhaps one bad apple does spoil the bunch? Just imagine being in that situation – training with a bunch of teammates daily, but one of them is difficult? It would sour the ambience at the training ground to a degree.

But it is undeniable that Guendouzi is talented. He would have no shortage of interested parties should he decide that the going is better on other shores.

How do we avoid another Gnabry situation?

Now there are many facets that aren’t similar – Gnabry’s attitude wasn’t abrasive and he couldn’t get enough gametime from the start. But we have let plenty of young players go, only for them to immediately show us what we are missing.

There is a definite chance of this happening with Guendouzi.

The problem is that if he does stay at Arsenal, how does Arteta get him to tow the line like his other players? Currently, putting him out to train alone is not exactly fertilising positivity. So if Matteo flouts the rules again, how should Arteta react?

Alternatively, if he did it again, would that indicate that Guendouzi is simply a renegade who isn’t interested in harmony and mutual respect?

It’s clear that Guendouzi isn’t the finished article – his positioning smacks of inexperience and he far too often fails to track his man, but we have all seen that he could be a huge player for us.

Or for another club. At this moment in time, it looks likely that our crop of promising youth players will shoulder the responsibility of Arsenal’s immediate future without the help of the crazy-haired Guendouzi.

 

 

 

We Need Our Torreira Back

It has gone quiet, but this season especially has shown us that our defensive midfield issues have not quite been put to bed just yet.

With the signings of Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira especially, the clamourings to sign a potent defensive midfielder were hushed, and with both players hitting the ground running, our worries were sated for a time.

Guendouzi has shown a hunger for possession that has led him to hounding the opposition in all areas of the pitch.

Torreira made a huge impact from the very start of his Arsenal career, and montages of his terrier-like tackling prowess and his never-say-die attitude manifesting itself on the pitch filled us all with absolute joy.

We had the answer we had been looking for since the departure of Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva. We had that player who would protect the backline and stand sentry, letting no enemy pass without at least a stiff examination of their credentials.

Or so it seemed.

This season has seen some strange goings on in our tactics and the way we line up.

Firstly, the sparing use of Lucas Torreira, even in the big games, really does leave us scratching our heads. When played, he always gives no less than 100%, but at least 50% of our matches he has spent on the bench.

When he does play, the tigerish displays we have come to adore have been replaced with a lasses-faire attitude to defending. It comes down to his positioning, which has been far more forward than last season, and a large amount of time he has been amongst the most forward on the pitch.

This kind of leaves us hamstrung when it comes to defending, as the aperture where Torreira should be protecting is open, and like the Gates of Thermopylae, our enemy harness it to great effect.

It leaves them streaming forward, and our defence backing off. Acres of space, and it leads to a shot. So many in fact, that we have led the way in Europe with regards to shots faced.

Guendouzi has been his all-action self – his display against Tottenham was frighteningly good – but the boy is still just 20, and needs a pivot partner to truly get the most out of what he brings, which is pretty much everything.

We need Torreira to do what he does best, and that is get the ball back, harass, breath down their necks. Instead, it looks like he has been let off a leash, and that is down to instruction.

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Is Emery content with letting Torreira off the hook in a footballing sense? Are the instructions he is giving the Uruguayan to go forward and assist the attack?

If so, that means Emery is leaving us dangerously lopsided, and open to barrages of attacks.

Torreira, if disciplined, can be the lynchpin of the side, the cornerstone that holds the side together. Take it away and you have what he have seen against Watford, Liverpool and Tottenham in the first half.

A blow-away, powderpuff side that can’t stand straight under scrutiny from a decent attack.

We need Torreira to stand in front of advancing hordes and use his abilities to stem the tide.

We don’t need another Alex Song – we need our Torreira back!

Guendouzi Appreciation Society

Let us take a moment to appreciate Matteo Guendouzi.

The young Frenchman has taken to the Premier League like Tottenham to a semi-final exit and defied his years to put in performances that have filled us all with optimism for his near future.

Joining as a 19 year old, we had been linked with some promising players prior to Guendouzi putting pen to paper, but all had fallen by the wayside. Guendouzi was the kid chosen, and from his displays so far, it appears we have made the right choice.

What makes him so special though? At the time of writing, the kid with the untamed hair has made 28 appearances so far in the campaign, a huge number for a player touted to make his mark first in the Under-23’s.

Guendouzi crazy hair
Guendouzi – The Lion-Haired Talent

Why has Unai Emery invested so much trust in the precocious youth? From what we have seen, one of the main reasons is his fearlessness.

In tight situations, both on the ball and in scoreline, Guendouzi has shown an incredible hunger for possession. He always shows for the ball, and even better than his desire to be on the ball is his instant decision to always be on the front foot.

What makes him different to the midfielders we have is that the sideways pass is his safety net, but his first choice is always to progress up the pitch. He can make that happen with or without the ball – Guendouzi is a decent dribbler and can carry when the need arises, and his eye for a pass highlights a decent eye for someone so young.

His transitional play gives us something we don’t have in our ranks and he has stamina to burn. We must remember his age and lack of experience, however.

At times his decision-making – the last skill normally developed by kids as they grow – has been found wanting, and the negative to go with the positives of youth is that they will make errors on the pitch. That is how anybody learns, and footballers are no different.

We as fans are an impatient bunch, and mistakes on the turf are always met with groans, but when he inevitably makes a boo-boo and puts the team in danger, we must give him the time to learn.

The problem with Guendouzi is that he has made remarkably few since joining the team. He has made a rod for his own back as we expect so much now from him.

Emery obviously realises that Guendouzi is a real talent, and his box-to-box mentality and style is an arrow in our quiver that gives us the ability to adapt tactically. Guendouzi’s midfield versatility is perhaps his biggest strength and it will make him a lynchpin in the side in a year or so.

We have an opponent with a high press? Play Torreira alongside Guendouzi and have the Uruguayan and the Frenchman sitting deeper and tracking. What if we have a team that are sitting deep themselves and willing to hit on the break? A midfield 3 perhaps or Xhaka with Guendouzi, to push forward but have Guendouzi’s pace as a contingency.

Either way, whoever partners Matteo will know they have a player who puts it all in, and leaves nothing behind. They will have a partner willing to muck in when the going gets tough, and the ability to make thing happen or at the very least, get the ball quickly to the dangermen who can create.

Guendouzi is a real find, and his progress rate is quite astonishing. Let us hope he is given the room to grow into the player we all know he can be.

An Unhealthy Dose Of Cynicism

Featured in The Gooner Fanzine

In his post-match interview with the media, Burnley boss was asked to comment on his thoughts after Arsenal had earned a 3-1 win at The Emirates over his side.

The gravel-throated manager chose this platform to vent his feelings over what he felt was unjust refereeing decisions.

Dyche referenced the fact his team have waited more than 60 games for a penalty, and that the push on Kevin Long in the penalty area from behind – which caused Long to fall backwards instead of forwards and thus defy the laws of physics – should have resulted in a spot kick for the Clarets.

Most interestingly though, was his slightly skewed version of events regarding his striker, Ashley Barnes.

Barnes had enjoyed a running battle with our centre-half, Sokratis. Both had been guilty of fouls and both were booked. One player remained calm though, in the face of rising heat on the pitch, whereas another chose to vent in a nefarious manner – which was to stamp on the grounded Matteo Guendouzi.

Dyche didn’t bring this up, surprisingly, but did say that Barnes got elbowed in the face.

Barnes and Sokraits

 

Dyche bemoaning the physical reciprocation that the Gunners dished out is akin to a zookeeper covering himself in meat and crying about being mauled by the tigers. Dyche and his Clarets side enjoyed a seventh placed finish last campaign that was built on a robust defence and a midfield that wouldn’t back down an iota. These tactics don’t lean toward unlocking defences through the majesty of football, but through wearing down an opponent.

It ain’t pretty, but it can be effective. Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis have forged careers on the back of such an approach – but at what point does a fierce will to win and a penchant for gamesmanship turn into an enemy of the beautiful game?

When does physicality become too overbearing and to the detriment of the match and the spectators?

Every team needs an element of sh*thousery. When we signed Stephane Lichtsteiner and Sokratis this summer, we celebrated their arrival as it heralded an end to the naivety and innocence that has been the nadir of many seasons hopes in the past.

These players know when to waste time, when to make that crucial professional foul, in order to gain an advantage, no matter how small. Grappling in the box, a shirt tug here, a flick of the boot there – we needed players who had a handle on the darker arts of the game.

It has helped us – but the approach from Burnley was much more than this.

Dyche may have been surprised that we fought back, and that was a springboard for the three points. In the past, we may have crumpled like a cheap suit in the face of some of the challenges, but instead, we grafted.

We also didn’t let it descend into the brawl that Burnley wanted. So, instead of trying to play their way out, they just kicked us harder. So we went down under challenges, we broke up play, we kept possession.

Barnes and Guendouzi

 

The fact Barnes was even on the pitch to score the away team’s consolation goal was a mystery – as was the fact that MOTD chose not to highlight his assault on the young Guendouzi. Credit to the Frenchman, he could have reacted – if you’re stamped on, that would be what is on your mind – but he didn’t, and instead gave his all with the ball.

Burnley and Dyche are hypocritical if they are whinging about how often we went down and the fact they don’t get enough decisions in their favour. By the way they acted during their loss to us, match officials will be too busy keeping tabs on the amount of fouls they make.

They were the aggressors, they were the ones who decided they wanted the game to be a brawl. When we choose to go to ground under a foul instead of turning round and starting a fight, or even gamely trying to carry on? We did that to frustrate them, and it worked. Just like they rocked up to The Emirates to frustrate us – but our newly found maturity under Emery was the perfect antidote.

There is a time and a place for pure physical tactics, but to use them as the bedrock of your whole gameplan? You will eventually get found out. There’s always someone bigger and harder than you.

Replacing Rambo

Aaron Ramsey has shown his hand.

The discussion surrounding the Welshman and his long-running contract saga centres on the alleged contract offer being rescinded by the club. There are scant details available, other than David Ornstein declaring this via Twitter.

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All we are left with is knowing that Aaron Ramsey will almost definitely be in another jersey in the summer. Possibly even in December if our club want a transfer fee.

So, where does that leave us? Much depends on where Ramsey is best utilised.

The Welshman is most often listed as a central midfielder, but it is quite obvious that Unai Emery doesn’t see him that way. Every selection has seen Rambo slotting into the attacking three behind our sole striker.

Ramsey’s main strength is probably his late runs into the box to snaffle goals. To maximise this, he is better utilised further up the field. Sure, he can tackle and track runners, but Ramsey gets goals, so attack is his best option.

Now that he is departing the club though, do we need to recruit again? Will the Rambo-shaped hole we have derail any progress that Emery is forging? Does the Spaniard need to get on the phone to Sven Mislintat to find a suitable replacement?

No. Our squad is stronger than we think – and Ramsey leaving doesn’t have to impact us at all.

Since Emery has taken over, we have seen very little of the Ramsey we have adored. The attacking midfielder has been sorely lacking in the end product department, but someone has stepped forward and can plug the gap left by Ramsey. How do we know?

Because he has been doing it this season already.

Alex Iwobi has seemingly found his feet again after a shaky season in Wenger’s last campaign. The Nigerian has been fleet of foot, but crucially, his decision-making has not let his other talents down. He has been quite excellent, and would easily deserve  a starting spot ahead of Ramsey.

With Henrikh Mkhitaryan already waiting for an attacking spot to call his own, we have a fair amount of depth. Plus, Emery is known to chop and change his tactics, so we may opt for three central men – in that case, bargain find Matteo Guendouzi has shown that even inexperience can’t dim blazing hot talent on the pitch.

Ramsey will always hold a special place in our memories. His heroic fightback from his horror injury, his epic season of 2013/14, his two winning FA Cup goals – Ramsey has given ten years service.

Yes, it is mystifying what Ramsey must be demanding, but we must concentrate on the surface view, and how Rambo will be leaving us – and whether we will suffer.

It seems like we are well covered. If Emery has the faith in both Iwobi and Guendouzi, then the game time accrued will push them both on leaps and bounds.

Thanks for the memories Rambo.

Arsenal Vs West Ham Match Preview

What appears to be Unai Emery’s true test of how far he has taken this squad is now about to start.

 

After our first two games pitted us against the reigning champions and then Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Emery will be keen to see how we fare against more run-of-the-mill opposition – as will we all.

 

West Ham actually are in a similar position to us, including league position. Both winless from our first two games, both clubs have a new regime in place, both teams have a fair amount of new personnel – West Ham significantly more so.

 

The Hammers spent a fair wedge this summer, and Manuel Pellegrini is tasked with the gelling of the team. The signings have been impressive – Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko alone would make most European squads, but mashing them into a team is another matter entirely, and the Hammers have suffered so far.

Still, it’s early days for both clubs, but there can be no underestimating how big this game is. Whoever comes out of this fixture with the L will have zero points from three games, and the pressure mounts.

Plus, we’ve got the added drama of Jack coming back to The Emirates – let’s hope it’s not a happy reunion.

 

 

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TEAM NEWS

 

Emery is without Laurent Koscielny, Carl Jenkinson, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac for this fixture and the foreseeable future – all defenders.

 

The same central defensive pairing should play this game, as Emery will be keen to forge some form of partnership between Sokratis and Shkodran Mustafi, although they both need to grasp these new instructions a bit firmer if we are to hold out hope of shutting out the Hammers.

 

In midfield, Emery was quick to sub Granit Xhaka at half time in our loss to Chelsea, so we could see new boy Lucas Torreira line up with Matteo Guendouzi – a very young but incredibly vibrant engine room.

 

We are all waiting to see if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will line up alongside Alexandre Lacazette, and with both such shining talents, our future must include both on the pitch at the same time, at least when we are not expected to struggle too much. Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are raring to go in attack, but Alex Iwobi played well last time out and could push for another start.

 

Prediction

 

It is incredibly hard to assess how this game will pan out, but with both teams struggling in defence, there is a chance this could rain goals. Both eleven’s will be resplendent with attacking jewels, and the best form of defence is attack.

 

We do have to be wary of the old pals act – namely Jack Wilshere and Lucas Perez. It is a common thing for ex-players to come back and haunt their old clubs, and this would smart just a little. Wilshere will most likely start this game at his old home, and Lucas will be pushing to play a part too.

 

Cech has impressed in goal since getting the nod over new boy Bernd Leno and he could be busy, but if our attack comes good, then we should grab the points.

 

I’m plumping for a 3-1 win today. I think both Auba and Laca will break their ducks for the season too, if they play I don’t think West Ham have enough defensively to quieten them for 90 minutes.

 

I do think West Ham will score though, and it could be a nail-biting afternoon, but I hope to see the Guendouzi who has impressed since joining, and Lucas Torreira doing what he does best.

 

We should have enough to grab the points here and get Emery’s era off to a proper start.

 

Who Is Matteo Guendouzi?

It flew under the radar a little, but we made our fifth summer signing just after the Lucas Torreira announcement, and it looks to be an exciting one for the future for Arsenal.

The young French midfielder Matteo Guendouzi signed on the dotted line for the Gunners, and the purchase from Ligue 2 Lorient shows that Sven Mislntat and his backroom team were intent on providing Arsenal with a long term midfield option that could prove to be a bargain.

Guendouzi is a ball-carrying midfielder who made his first team breakthrough with Lorient two seasons ago, and last season settled into a first eleven role, and with Lorient playing in the second tier, the French club were in the right position to sell their brightest talent.

What do we know of Guendouzi? This purchase took some research. I had heard of the name but never seen him play, but the French football experts certainly rate him, and liken him to an earlier transfer target of ours – Yancine Adli.

Physically strong and adept at transitioning play with the ball at his feet, Guendouzi is just as much at home at the base of the midfield as he is a box to box role.

Guendouzi made 18 appearances for Lorient as they just missed out on an immediate return to Ligue Un. His career started in Paris however, as he began his youth career with PSG. The 19 year old has already played for France U18, U19 and U20 level.

Guendouzi is not without his risks though. He had a run-in with the coaching team last season after being hooked at half time during a game, and our new Under23 coach Freddie Ljungberg will have to instill the famous Arsenal team values if Guendouzi is to prosper here.

The transfer fee of 7m is a modest one for a highly coveted 19 year old, but it also speaks of a player who could make a massive difference should the environment suit him.

What does next season hold for the 19 year old? Well, a run in the Under23’s looks likely, to gauge how close to a first team debut the Frenchman is. He has already played a smidgen of top-tier football, but the difference between that and making a mark on the Premier League is a chasm.

Unai Emery has commented on the young signing, and his words reveal that Guendouzi is very much part of his immediate plans;

We are delighted Matteo is joining us. He is a talented young player and a lot of clubs were interested in him. He has big potential and gained good first-team experience last season with Lorient. He wants to learn and improve and will be an important part of our first-team squad.”

With Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Mohamed Elneny and fellow youngster Ainsley Maitland-Niles vying for midfield spots, Guendouzi will really have to shine to get the starts he will be craving, but with a full schedule of games and potential injuries to contend with, this signing very much makes sense.

Identifying talent at a young age is pretty much what Sven Mislintat is renowned for – and what we hired him to do. This signing though, will be the first time that the German has really put his name on a transfer, so it will be very interesting to see how Guendouzi prospers.

It’s an exciting time for us Gunners. This summer’s purchases has reaped experience, proven winners, tenacity, strength and a sprinkling of promise. Guendouzi seems to firmly fall into the latter, but with each display, we will see if he can offer what he promises.
Welcome to Arsenal Matteo Guendouzi!