Fire. Passion. Intensity. Characteristics people are quick to throw out when discussing the attributes of a leader. Someone who plays with their heart on their sleeve. Lives the message of Tony Adams’, “play for the name on the front of the shirt and they’ll remember the name on the back.”
Immature, aimless, reckless. Descriptions used for when moments of passion strike the wrong chord within and judgement is passed.
It’s often a fine line, one that changes from person to person and Arsenal have their fair share of these fine lines in their history. Moments where one sees leadership, passion, fire, and everything they want from a player, while others can’t get behind the action. None more famous than Martin Keown’s reaction to Ruud’s missed penalty.
Take a more recent example that is much less prominent. Kieran Tierney flying onto the scene with Hector Bellerin to tell Vojvoda how they felt about bringing down Gabriel Martinelli.
Few people would call that reckless or immature. In fact, many applauded the action as the mark of a future leader — myself included.
So what is the line when it comes to Matteo Guendouzi? Is it as fickle as the context that surrounds the action? The result of the match in which it all took place? The unapologetic reaction to the scrutiny? After all, Martin Keown very openly admits he would do it all over again without a second thought so Guendouzi isn’t the first to feel less than sorry for their actions.
The divide comes with how a player conducts themselves behind closed doors, in training every day, and learns from their actions to channel their fire in a positive way. Standing up for a teammate is good. Feeling vindicated at a rival’s misfortune after an undeserved bit of fortune falls into their lap is understandable. But these moments of “too far” are fleeting and backed up by the rest of their persona.
In the case of Matteo Guendouzi, the fall from grace after the Brighton game has been fast and arguably, of his own volition. Yesterday, David Ornstein and The Athletic broke an exclusive story that Matteo Guendouzi has not trained with the full team in over two weeks. That after the Brighton match, a meeting was held between Matteo, Mikel, and Edu that went less than smoothly. The refusal to apologize and grow from this has Matteo on the outside looking in at Mikel’s Arsenal rebuild and Arsenal shopping around for potential swap opportunities.
The news has split Arsenal fans once again. Sell, swap, and move on from such a young prospect? How could Arteta and Arsenal be so short sighted? Others feel sick of the antics, the lack of growth, the unchanneled rage.
Arsenal fans have called out for years that their squad needs to be held accountable for their actions, their performances, their attitude and here we have a coach with a distinct set of rules, “non-negotiables” as he calls them, and is challenged at an early point in his managerial career to not back down. This may be what that accountability looks like. Would fans feel differently if this were a different player? One not so young, filled with potential?
I have written in past about reassessing Matteo Gunedouzi for the betterment of his career. That he is still young and in need of an additional skill within his game before he can make the leap into the next tier of players and sit above the label of “role player.” It’s an assessment I stand behind, but in light of recent news, that assessment could be for nought.
Arteta and the club are well aware of exactly what they have on their hands. They are familiar with the immature antics of youth players and young stars. You don’t spend careers in sport as both players and staff without interactions with a wide range of ages. They spend every day with this young man and see the growth, or lack of growth, he shows.
It’s not a strong stand or a bold claim I am going to make, but if Edu and Arteta are at the point of severing ties with Guendouzi, the situation behind closed doors is worse than we can ever know. It’s goes beyond the actions we see on the field and into the reactions we don’t see. It delves into the roots laid by Guendouzi long before the match against Brighton and the history that follows him from FC Lorient before he was a Gunner.
There is a real chance that Guendouzi leaves and becomes a very good player. On that same hand, there is world in which his career needs the upheaval of a sizable club like Arsenal showing him the door to spark the growth needed in the professional world. In the end, this situation sits on a knife’s edge. If Guendouzi comes back around and Arteta is content with his change, he should be welcomed back into the side. If not, then it is time to move him along and bring in someone that can be a part of the rebuild. This just might be what it looks like to have a manager that isn’t willing to waste his time on those unwilling to get onboard the ship. Sink or swim, Gunners.