Mattéo Guendouzi: A Promising Start for Arsenal's New Signing
After the opening two fixtures of the 2018/19 Premier League season, Arsenal fans have been left feeling pleasantly surprised by the encouraging performances of their youngest summer signing, Mattéo Guendouzi. Although the Gunners lost both their opening matches to Man City (2-0) and Chelsea (2-3), the performances of their new deep-lying midfielder have turned heads at Emirates Stadium, and given fans a sense of excitement for an improved domestic campaign this year despite their difficult start.
A Step Up From Ligue 2
Born in 1999, Mattéo Guendouzi began his playing career at the academy of Paris Saint Germain, before joining FC Lorient's academy in the north-west of France in 2014. After impressing the club's management team with his performances for the FC Lorient B team, he was promoted to the first team squad in 2016. Here he made 7 league appearances and maintained a pass completion rate of 91.2% in his debut season, which ultimately saw Lorient FC relegated to the second-tier of French football.
But even though the club failed to maintain top-flight status in France, their relegation to Ligue 2 presented a perfect opportunity for the 19 year old to gain valuable first team experience for Les Merlus. He made 21 appearances in all competitions the following season (2017/18) and caught the attention of a number of Premier League clubs after strong performances in central midfield that showcased both his combative playing style & natural passing ability.
Despite being linked with the likes of Manchester City & Tottenham during the 2017/18 season, it was Arsenal that prevailed in the hunt for the Guendouzi's signature, and since signing for the North Londoners back in July 2018 for an undisclosed fee, the Frenchman hasn't looked back.
Impressing Unai Emery
Having joined Arsenal's squad in July 2018, Mattéo was able to benefit from a full pre-season under the Gunners' new head coach, Unai Emery. The young midfielder was selected as part of their preseason tour of Singapore, and was arguably their stand out player in South East Asia after a strong performance against his old academy club, PSG, in a game the Gunners won comfortably 5-1.
His Premier League Debut
Given the Frenchman's age, I suspect few Arsenal fans would have guessed that the 19 year old Frenchman would feature regularly for the first team this season, and his inclusion in the starting XI against Man City certainly showed the faith Unai Emery has in his ability.
The Gunners were comfortably beaten by City and were outmatched in pretty much every department on the pitch. However, it was Guendouzi's desire to play positively in the latter stages of the game that received particular appreciation from the Emirates faithful, completing the most touches (71) of any Arsenal player on the field.
Away at Stamford Bridge
A week later Mattéo produced another promising individual performance for the Gunners against Chelsea, and justified his position in the starting line-up over the likes of Aaron Ramsey, who was dropped after the opening fixture. Similar to Arsenal's opening game of the season, it was Guendouzi's desire to get involved and positively affect play in the midfield that caught spectators' attention.
Take a look at the 19 year old's impressive statistics from only his second Premier League game on Saturday:
Although we're only 2 games into the new 2018/2019 Premier League season, Guendouzi has made more tackles & interceptions (combined = 17) than any other player in the league so far.
His promising individual performance became even more apparent during the Chelsea game on Saturday when Granit Xhaka was subbed off after 45 minutes after a truly awful first half display. Despite losing the game 3-2, Arsenal showed some resilience to level the scores before half-time at 2-2, and Guendouzi was very much at the heart of Arsenal's fight back into the game.
The club will be encouraged by the level of passion and drive their new signing shows on the pitch, especially given his age - Guendouzi was seen pounding the Stamford Bridge turf in reaction to Aubameyang's miss during the Chelsea game. His visible desire to succeed is quite uncharacteristic of other Arsenal players in recent years, and I'm sure this is something Unai Emery will be actively trying to change at the club. Arsenal fans can only hope that the youngster's form on the pitch continues, and that his drive to succeed will rub off on a few of Arsenal's other midfielders this season, if they're to achieve any success under their new head coach.