This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
After arriving from Lorient last summer in a £8m deal, not much was expected of floppy-haired Frenchman Matteo Guendouzi. The 20-year-old shone in a team in France’s second division and no-one really could have predicted the kind of impressive debut campaign he would have in England.
Such was the impression the midfielder left on Unai Emery in Arsenal’s pre-season though, that he was handed the full 90 minutes against Manchester City and Chelsea in the opening two games of the Premier League season last year.
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Guendouzi’s rapid rise saw him named in France’s squad for the U21 European Championships this summer and despite his side exiting the competition in disappointing fashion against Spain, he showed a real glimpse during the game of what he could potentially bring to Arsenal’s future.
When Les Bleus were on top in the clash, it was Guendouzi who was truly at the heart of everything that was good. The midfielder’s 55 passes were a game-high for France and came at an impressive 83.6% accuracy; the kind of figures enjoyed by a deep-lying playmaker.
But for someone of Guendouzi’s age, it was his defensive contributions that impressed the most on Thursday night. His two interceptions were the second-highest of any of his teammates and the three times he was fouled were often on occasions where he was deep inside his own half and relieving Spanish pressure.
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One sumptuous through ball that eventually led to an awful miss from Jean-Philippe Mateta was a major highlight of how progressive his passing can be at Arsenal, with the attacking side of his game still in need of development. After Aaron Ramsey’s departure to Juventus, this could be key.
Indeed, his calmness and composure on the ball are reminiscent of Granit Xhaka and it was little surprise to see Emery employing the two in the middle in order to control the tempo of matches last season.
After taking in a full campaign of English football, Guendouzi will fancy his chances of stepping up another gear for Emery’s side next year. So if he plays as a deep-lying playmaker like a Xhaka, or more of a box-to-box presence like a Ramsey, the Frenchman has shown he has the tactical astuteness at just 20 years of age to be anything and everything his manager wants him to be. The ultimate modern midfielder.