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FEATURE | The rapid rise of Matteo Guendouzi – why Unai Emery deserves all the credit

The CIES Football Observatory is one of the most talked about pieces of material in all of football. It sparks debate, it creates controversy and it provokes a long list of pieces on whether a certain player is worth their listed amount or, conversely, how that same player has gotten to a stage to be valued as such by CIES.

In the latest edition of CIES, they published the highest valued U20 players across Europe’s big five leagues and as per usual, it’s caused a lot of debate – with the exception of the top spot, Jadon Sancho – but from 2nd place down, it’s got people talking. In particular, they’re talking about Matteo Guendouzi of Arsenal who has charted rapid rise from Ligue 2 and Lorient to Premier League in 12 months.

His ascension, regardless of what you may feel about his team or his performances, has been extraordinary and Guendouzi has become a player that Arsenal fans can get behind because he has bought into the club.

While this may not have a bearing on his CIES value, it is a trait that is near enough invaluable in modern football and especially at the top level. Whilst the CIES doesn’t factor in heart, desire to win and mental toughness, it is important to mention that in a time where Arsenal seem to be in a “crisis,” Guendouzi has been a player that Arsenal fans feel like they can get behind, feel like they can back him and feel like he “gets” the club.

Popping his head out of his car window to celebrate beating Spurs – while it may be something that is used to beat him back with on social media – showed that he is trying to form that bond between the club and the fans. What about on the pitch?

Guendouzi has a lot of bark and bite and despite his age, he is not afraid to jump into the deep end in the middle of the field, even if it slightly exposes his positional intelligence level in the Premier League. Guendouzi is superb at going full blast at the opposition, his energy levels often are his great asset to the Arsenal midfield.

The Frenchman, who’s just turned 20, hasn’t registered a goal or an assist for the Gunners in the league but that is simply not his role; his role is to sit deeper, provide a roaming coverage behind the midfield and ahead of the defence – almost like a free safety in an NFL defence – achieved to a plomb with an impressive tackle success rate. Additionally, he has develop a knack for the inside of the foot curled delivery into the box from left-sided positions.

Guendouzi made 44 tackles in the Premier League season, one more than James Milner, six more than Jan Vertonghen, seven more than Toby Alderweireld and 25 more than Phil Jones and with a 59% completion rate on his tackles, Guendouzi is more impressive in this domain than Jorginho of Chelsea, who admittedly had 26 more tackles (raw) to his name.

Of course, statistics can be deceiving but the effect that Guendouzi has when he does start is plain to see. There is an element of rashness to his game, something that will disappear once he gains more experience and receives more playing time, but it’s noticeable that in his first season, despite the impression that he is reckless and with a gung-ho style, Guendouzi is still yet to receive a red card in league action.

It may seem insignificant but for a player as young as he is, with as little experience at the top level as he has, it is a sign of in-game intelligence and knowing when to dive in for a tackle and knowing what kind of tackle to make.

His energy is a valuable asset to Arsenal, while his tenacious nature gives them a bit of toughness in the middle of the park that they have been crying out for for years.

He can only grow as a player, more than he already has, and under the guidance of Unai Emery – a manager that seemingly has a fair amount of trust in the young man and deserves a lot of credit for spotting his talent with Lorient. The Basque tactician has shown enormous faith in the French teen, giving him a full 90 minutes against Manchester City and Chelsea in the first two games of the Premier League season and developing him throughout the campaign. If this trend of opportunities and on-pitch evidence continues, Guendouzi will become a vital part to Arsenal’s future. He has the fans and manager on his side, he just needs to carry on and grow from this point on.

T.S.

 

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