Matteo Guendouzi with feel he has much to mull over following his Premier League debut for Arsenal, a performance that combined plenty of promise with equal signs that the teenager has been fast-tracked into Unai Emery’s starting XI a little too quickly.
On the one hand, it was an inaugural competitive appearance for the Gunners thwart with errors; the most obvious was letting the ball bounce over his foot on the halfway line, allowing Sergio Aguero a free run at goal that Petr Cech defied probability to smother, but the Frenchman also failed to stop Raheem Sterling sneaking into his pocket of the engine room for the first goal, suffered the most unsuccessful touches of any player on the pitch (6) and only completed 81% of his passes – a disappointing return for a deep-lying midfielder who isn’t being asked to play particularly risky balls.
On the other, though, there were moments when Guendouzi appeared arguably the most committed and mentally mature Arsenal player on the pitch amid a clunky, disjointed and underwhelming Gunners performance in which the north London club’s biggest talents once again went missing for significant periods. The 19-year-old made the second-most tackles and second-most interceptions of any Arsenal player, while registering the most touches of the ball for the Gunners with an impressive 72.
And that highlights exactly why Guendouzi has managed to propel himself from being a comparatively cheap signing for the future, which is widely what he was seen as after arriving at the Emirates in early July, to being on the team-sheet for Emery’s first Premier League game in charge of Arsenal just one month down the line.
Just as in pre-season when he showed a level of responsibility beyond his years, it was Guendouzi on Sunday who rushed over to Emery halfway through the first 45 minutes to discuss how best to cope with City’s runs from midfield, and it was Guendouzi who seemed to make the game revolve around him, never more than a few yards from the action. For better or worse, he refused to hide against the most dominant team in English football right now.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Guendouzi’s midfield accomplice Granit Xhaka, who only amplified the former Lorient starlet’s potential to make those mistakes. Whenever a young player comes into a team, more senior team-mates should feel a natural obligation to protect them as much as possible, but the Switzerland international – who Transfermarkt value at £36million – offered Guendouzi little respite from City’s many onslaughts, eventually making less passes and less tackles than a midfielder six years his junior all without managing a single interception.
In terms of ability, Guendouzi still probably isn’t ready for this level. Even taking nerves out of the equation, the loose touches suggest a player who still has a lot to learn to be a regular in a side aiming for a top four finish this season.
But in terms of mentality, Guendouzi is already outshining a number of his team-mates, so it becomes a difficult choice for Emery with summer signing Lucas Torreira likely coming into the side for Arsenal’s next game; does he favour Xhaka’s proven Premier League pedigree but questionable attitude, or Guendouzi’s brand of earnest inconsistency?
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