The time has come to reassess Matteo Guendouzi – for the better. If you have come here expecting a piece that slags off the young French player you may be sorely disappointed, but I assure you this is going to be far from all praises. With the attention that he has gotten since he came to Arsenal, the hype and promise he was given under Unai Emery, and the starkly contrasting view that many fans have for him now, it seems like everyone could use a second to step back, take a look at him objectively and consider properly reassessing him.
Matteo Guendouzi is a 20 year old, in his second year at Arsenal and in the Premier League, with 55 appearances in all competitions already (behind only Aubameyang in that stretch of time), that raced out to an impressive start, was hyped in a way that suggested he could be Arsenal’s new Cesc Fabregas, and now, in his second year, has appeared to take a step back and become more inconsistent in his performances leading a contingency of fans to call for his sale at the summer.
Except, his stats suggest he has actually been fairly consistent from his first year to second. “But just as good isn’t getting better!” Agreed, and we will get there, but let’s look at his Premier League numbers* for the two season at Arsenal.
|Minutes (per Game)||65||73|
|Shots (per game)||.3||.3|
|Touches (per game)||59.5||63.5|
|Big Chances Created||3||1|
|Key Passes (per game)||.5||.5|
|Interceptions (per game)||.9||1.2|
|Tackles (per game)||1.3||1.4|
|Duels Won (per game)||4.5 (56%)||5.0 (54%)|
|Discipline||9 Yellow, 0 Red||6 Yellow, 0 Red|
Comparing these stats side by side we can see a player that is offering fairly similar production. A few more minutes per game, the same shots quantity, has added 4 touches – not a lot, averages a key pass every other game, still passing with 88% accuracy, and has increased his defensive stats. Overall, the stats are pretty stagnant as far as growth goes, but it suggests that these aspects of his game haven’t dipped as far as some people are claiming.
“It’s not just about stats but what he is doing on the field. You can see the difference.” It’s a fair point. Some things don’t show up in stats, but you can clearly see them. To look at this, I want us to look at Guendouzi’s heatmaps from 2018/19 and 19/20. Here can begin to see some differences.
2018/19 Heat Map
2019/20 Heat Map
In his first year and under Emery, he was a player that heavily occupied the center of the park and down the left side of the field. It’s a role that sparked the notice of people as he got himself into the attack and it is a similar position he was in earlier this season when he unlocked Tottenham with an assist to Aubameyang. Picking up the ball in the center, he drove at the defense to the left, cut in on his right foot and played a beautiful ball in.
Compare that to the role that he has in Arteta’s system and his 19/20 heatmap. The left side of Arsenal’s midfield pairing is occupied frequently by Granit Xhaka forcing Guendouzi to shift over to the right side, different from where he found his success. We see on his heatmap a heavier influence on the right side of the field, but also less time in the attacking third. This could definitely be explained by Arsenal’s reluctance to leave their backline unprotected, but for an engine player like Guendouzi, learning to be a box-to-box midfielder that is able to get more involved in the attack beyond moving the ball side to side is critical next step in his development. While he may never be a player that has much presence in the offensive box, he has limited presence closer than 30 yards out.
“It’s the antics and the antagonizing, it suggests he has no class.” There has been a steady stream of people looking to attack Guendouzi for some of his behavior on the field. Although it is Mike Dean that comes of looking worse most recently, Guendouzi dramatically placing the ball for a free kick and earning himself a yellow card is a perfect example of who can be on the field and why that rubs people the wrong way. While I, personally, don’t believe that he has crossed the line to join the likes of Balotelli-type players whose antics often effect how they play, I understand that some fans don’t like to see it from their team.
However, I will counter with the suggestion that there have often been times that Arsenal have been criticized for having a lack of fire in their squad, players with character in their game, ones that antagonize here and there or are willing to get in the faces of opposition and show some fight. There is little doubt that Guendouzi’s character needs fine tuning, corralling, and work to make sure it is channeled properly, but having that in the team can quickly morph into a positive. A perfect example of a mature display of fire within Arsenal could be Kieran Tierney. He has a great attitude, work rate, is quick to get into the face of opponents to back up teammate but doesn’t often cross the line into immature. Much like Guendouzi’s game, he needs time to mature and figure it all out.
There is no argument against the fact that Guendouzi has had a year that can be best described as stagnant and average at best, but there are many people in the Arsenal squad going through the same thing. It has been a volatile year, with few consistencies and Guendouzi was no different. He started off strong, went through a poor run with the rest of the team, and has had to battle for time while trying to learn his new role in Arteta’s system.
The odd part is just how far out of favor he had dropped in the minds of some fans. Some have gone from questioning how he can top his first year to questioning how fast Arsenal can sell him and who might buy him. Yet, we can see from the stats that he is producing similar results that won him attention from the French national team. It hasn’t been a major decline; it may just be the luster of him as a prize prospect has worn off in the minds of fans and he hasn’t progressed as much as hoped. Not progressing is a worrisome sign, but so would looking to offload a twenty-year-old with this much potential. Yes, we can play the fun game of ‘what if’ and ask if we would sell him if the right offer came our way. And yes, as with most people within the Arsenal squad, he is not an ‘unsellable’ player. If a team came and offered Arsenal the 50+ million he is valued at on Transfermarkt, it would be difficult to say no, but who would come knocking? PSG? Another Premier League team? Barcelona? The team would need to have the money to spend on him to begin with, which seems unlikely given the stall in progression.
In the meantime, it may do people well to reassess Matteo Guendouzi and accept that while he is not yet Cesc Fabregas, he is still an unpolished gem that deserves a look from Arteta, the chance to win himself time, and the opportunity to add more elements to his game. I believe he is one skill away from making his next leap and becoming the prolific player Arsenal hope he can be. We know he can be an engine, buzz around the field, and antagonize but can he add the ability to pick out an incisive pass or add a goalscoring element to his game? That will take time, practice, game experience, and hard work – something he should be given at the ripe age of 20.
Matteo Guendouzi is a role player within this team and given his stats matching with relative similarity to his first year, that’s alright. He has room to grow, time to do it, and the opportunity to be a future pillar within this Arsenal rebuild project. It will be up to him to seize it.