After a heavy spree of spending in their two most recent renewals, as well as a costly renewal of Mesut Özil’s contract, Arsenal were never going to be major players in this summer’s market. They have bought well thus far, with a set of experienced players including Stephan Lichtsteiner, Sokratis and Bernd Leno, and while each of this trio have proven themselves at a high standard of play, the club have also brought in one for the future in the form of Lorient’s central midfielder Matteo Guendouzi.
A product of Paris Saint-Germain’s academy from the western suburb of Poissy, Guendouzi joined the Breton side in 2011, and broke through with the first team in 2016-17. Lorient were ultimately relegated, and Guendouzi played less than five hundred minutes, but impressed in those limited opportunities, to say nothing of the fact that a manager facing the drop would start such a young player in a crucial role given his own job would be in the balance. Sylvain Ripoll was, of course, let go given the club’s poor performances, but interim boss Franck Haise was eager to deploy the youngster as well.
Last season, upon Lorient’s return to Ligue 2, he was a regular in the side until an incident in the dressing room saw him removed at the interval against Valenciennes in November. He didn’t feature for the first team again for nearly three months and was also removed from the first team in the run-in despite having played in eight consecutive matches upon his return, with manager Mickael Landreau dismissing his behaviour as “affected.” Rumours also abounded that Guendouzi had refused to renew his current contract, and that the club were forced to sell rather than see him depart on a free transfer next summer.
On the pitch, Guendouzi’s lanky frame and floppy hairstyle have drawn comparisons to Adrien Rabiot, and while that seems overly simplistic, there are some similarities to the two. Not really comfortable as a six, but not so skilful on the ball or direct enough to be used as a relayeur, Guendouzi instead relies on a lovely range of passing to affect play. At Lorient, this often manifested itself as balls played out to the flanks, or over the top, allowing him to play almost as a regista, dictating play on the counter whilst another midfielder retained the responsibility of breaking up the opposition’s play.
Despite not having the dribbling acumen of Rabiot, Guendouzi has shown flashes of realizing how to use his frame when in possession. Not particularly quick, he instead relies on a wiry strength to retain possession, using his long limbs to shield against opponents. That said, this same lanky aspect of his build can make him a bit lazy or prone to fouling when defending, as he is wont to leave a foot in or be somewhat lazy with his positioning in hoping to rely on his size, exemplified by a horror challenge against Auxerre last season. Too, while his inventiveness in terms of a range of passing is impressive, he can also be overly ambitious or seem to lack much in the way of a rapport with his teammates.
Clearly, at 19, despite his obvious passing ability, Guendouzi is one for the future, especially in taking the step up from Ligue 2 to the Premier League. While Arsenal were far from the only heavyweight club interested in the youngster, with Roma having been linked in January, serious questions remain over his attitude and maturity vis-a-vis his contract situation and relationship with Lorient’s hierarchy. Unai Emery has proven himself a skilful man-manager in this regard, having dramatically improved the play of several of Paris Saint-Germain’s younger players, so there are certainly opportunities awaiting Guendouzi given how many matches the Gunners are likely to play next season, but only if he can shake his nascent reputation for malfeasance.