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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.

Xhaka Can?

June was an interesting month for player developments in and out of Arsenal.

We had the recruitment team working overdrive, a new contract for youth prodigy Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and then there was the contract extension of Granit Xhaka.

This new derived a mixed reception from Gooners. Xhaka was one of the ‘villains’ of last season’s horror show, often his mistakes put under a large magnifying glass and pored over. His defensive work was viewed as a symptom of our downfall and weakness on the pitch.

An interesting article by Tim Stillman on Arseblog highlighted the Swiss midfielder’s vast improvement in the second half of the season though, and how he could yet still be vital to our hopes of success.

An upturn in form he may have enjoyed, but for the sake of objectivity, a spike in context means that there was massive room for improvement in the first place – as highlighted in this article on 7am Kickoff

For a central midfielder, his defensive skills need work. He was outtackled by the likes of Roberto Firmino last campaign, and while he improved in the second half of the season, to increase his defensive output would not have been difficult. Given that we have now acquired a specialist in this role in Lucas Torreira, where does this leave Xhaka?

Xhaka is very much a ‘square peg, round hole’ type of player. His all-action displays for his country and previous club Moenchengladbach gave high hopes of the combative centre man we have craved since Gilberto departed.

Granit is more than that though. While his tackling and interceptions may need work, his distribution success is amongst the best in the League. His eye for a pass and ability to transition play swiftly with a ping of his boot gives us something extra.

Granit Xhaka needs to improve

Unai Emery is now in charge and Xhaka’s contract extension would not have been offered if the Spanish boss didn’t have plans that included the Switzerland star. Emery is known to favour a pressing game, and if Xhaka is part of the Emery regimen, then it means that Emery knows that Xhaka has what it takes to continue to do what he does in attack, but also rework his defensive aspects.

The heat that Xhaka gets from our fanbase is a little much – but he is a scapegoat because his mistakes have been high-profile and highlighted by the media. Many other players don’t track runners with aplomb and / or lose out when tackling for possession. Yet Xhaka is a dud because of this.

There can be no doubt that the Granit from last season will not have much of a career at Arsenal under Unai Emery, should Xhaka continue with his lapses in concentration. He will need to hone his awareness, and make sure that he gets to where he needs to be. As Emery himself pointed out when commenting on Xhaka’s new deal – he is still young. that means there is room for improvement.

Xhaka has the building blocks to fill in the gaps in his game and be the player we need him to be, but there are justifiable reservations on his starting place amongst us all.

The fact is undeniable. We know he has the talent, but if he were to stay at the level he is now, then the exit door would not be far away. Emery demands more than what the vast majority of our squad put in last campaign.

Xhaka has a clean slate. It is clear he is very proud to represent The Arsenal. Now is the time to use that fierce pride and desire and leave it all out on the pitch, and adapt to Emery’s style.

It will be very interesting to see how he performs – the season can’t come soon enough.

Mesut Ozil – An Endangered Species.

The constant comparisons, documentaries and mentions of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are understandable, if a little grating.

Both players have graced the world stage with their inimitable presences, and have obliterated records with each season that passes. Driven by their own standards – and a little competition from each other – they have deservedly been labelled as the finest of our generation.

It is their goals though, that have seen them placed atop pedestals so high. Each campaign has seen them both plunder 40,50 goals and it is these numbers, in our stat-fuelled game as it stands today, that has allowed them to break off from their rivals and see them placed in their own unique category.

Some players specialise in goals. Some have their specialist subject in destroying midfielders. Others are adept at stemming wave after wave of attacks. 

Then there is Mesut Ozil.

If the German were to be part of a survey, he would not fit any previous mould. He would be found in the box marked ‘other.’

In todays game, our number 11 cannot be compared to any other player. He is crudely categorised as a playmaker, but anyone who has seen him play will realise he is much more than just our own Golden Hen, forcing out assist after assist. 

He is a mercurial ninja, floating between dimensions. Seeking only the right moment to strike, his singular motivation is to ensure he allows his team the best chance to ensure damage to the opposition. 

If the ball gravitates toward him in a deep position, then even a simple ten yard pass will have gone through his own mental collander, ruling out all other options and making sure it is the most efficient choice. 

Every decision he makes, when you take a retrospective look at his performance, is normally the correct one. All of these mental gymnastics his brain performs is done in a sliver of time that most would find difficult to comprehend. Only a small pocket of players are capable of utilising this skill on the pitch, but they still lack the other weapons at Ozil’s disposal.

As a ninja, Ozil’s quick thinking and vision are his katana – his go-to weapon. His sidearm though, is his awareness. The very same awareness that the great Dennis Bergkamp possessed. It allows Ozil to know where his teammates are, and find them no matter where they are. His technical ability means that if they are 50-60 yards away, he will still be able to produce a ball so perfectly weighted, that it will find its intended target even if they are on the run, allowing them to take possession easily.

Nothing is left to chance. What really sets our German apart though, is the effortless nature in which he performs such tasks. His roll of the body to outwit N’Golo Kante in our 3-0 demolition of Chelsea to start the move for the 3rd goal – which he duly scored – looked so easy and smooth that it looked like anyone could have done it.

He has the Karate Kid factor. We all saw the films, with Danny LaRusso being taught to paint fences and wax cars in a roundabout method of capturing the movement required for basic karate moves, but at the end of each film – didn’t we all try the crane kick? Didn’t we all think we could be karate champion? 

When we watch Ozil, it is the same. Everything he does looks so simple, but trying to recreate such things as a lowly human is nigh-on impossible. Ozil hails from a different plain, one that isn’t exactly overpopulated.

David Silva, Kevin DeBruyne, Henrik Mkhitaryan, Christian Eriksen and Cesc Fabregas are regularly stood next to Ozil and their numbers are studied and scrutinised in an effort to find a parallel with our quietly spoken genius. 

They may have the vision of Ozil. Some may even have his work rate. A few may yet possess his touch. None of them though, have his nonchalant manner in performing the ridiculously difficult. None have the ability to begin moves from any position, even when playing below par. 

Ozil is an instigator. His mind is a constant whirring chess simulation, twisting the board to all angles in an attempt to see a chink in the enemies armour. To find the smallest gap to slide his blade into, thus causing damage on a massive scale.

That is why Mesut Ozil is unique. Held up against the players who are always compared to him, he stands above them, as he cannot be merely labelled.

He is a diamond of many facets, each one allowing the other to shine brighter. 

He is unique, and we should enjoy every minute he wears our crest. 

Mesut Ozil is an endangered species, but hopefully his presence in training will allow others to glean enough to ensure and maintain a continuation of his kind. 

Is Wengerball Finished?

Featured in the Gooner Fanzine – pick up your outside The Emirates on matchday!!

No matter how long we endure a barren run, we always had a weapon primed for severe cases of Banteritis.  Under rigorous negative focus, the majestic steed we rode into battle atop was always our flowing play.  We could unlock a packed defence with our masterful artisans.  We had passes up our sleeves that would flummox even the most astute defender. 

Wengerball.  It has been our most prized asset for some time.  Even during seasons past when our squad was being pilliaged by the tyrannical might of Manchester and Chelsea were enjoying the fruits from their siege-football, the way we set up on the pitch drew admiring glances not only from begrudging journalists – but from the footballing elite.

Continue reading Is Wengerball Finished?