It’s less than a month since I wrote a piece debating where exactly Matteo Guendouzi is best deployed in our starting XI. I arrived at the conclusion that his long-term future with Arsenal would be as a number 6. At no point when I was writing the article did I consider that Guendouzi’s long-term future may not actually be with Arsenal. His talent and dedication to the cause led many who follow Arsenal to the belief that he will one day be our club captain. Right now, it seems such an idea is an impossibility.
The situation is a strange one. At the beginning of project restart, it looked like Guendouzi was one of the first names on Mikel Arteta’s team sheet. He was given a chance as a regista and at times against Man City and Brighton he appeared in complete control of the midfield area. He was building up play from deep, providing a constant option for those around him and was somewhat uncharacteristically delivering respectable defensive contribution. How then, just under a fortnight since the Brighton game, has Guendouzi found himself surplus to requirements at Arsenal?
Let’s go right back to the beginning. Although Sven Mislintat was the man to initiate the move for Guendouzi, the youngster had been on Arsenal’s radar for years prior to the German’s arrival at the club. Arsenal had been keeping an eye on the enigmatic midfielder since his days in the PSG academy. Of course his technical ability is outstanding, but Arsène Wenger’s scouting team were attracted most by another aspect of Guendouzi’s profile. His personality.
In an interview with So Foot magazine the then teenager admitted that “I hate losing.” When Regis Le Bris, director of Lorient’s development centre, decided to offer the youngster his first professional contract with the French minnows, he decided to do so not because of his talent or athleticism, but because of his “attitude.” Unfortunately, with a player like Guendouzi, a fair bit of baggage arrives alongside the boisterously unique personality. The baggage is the reason he finds himself in the position he is in currently.
The less attractive side of his personality never seemed to be an issue for Unai Emery. Our former Head Coach’s approach was much less hands-on than this successor’s meaning Guendouzi was free to act as he wished to an extent. Mikel Arteta’s approach to man management completely opposes Unai Emery’s. This was one of the key reasons for his appointment. He commands optimum concentration and commitment from his players at all times. Guendouzi’s approach which has come across to some as care-free doesn’t really conform with this type of regime.
To Arteta, this became obvious during February’s training camp in Dubai. It was reported by The Athletic that our head coach had a bust up with Guendouzi due to poor attitude in training. In consequence, Arteta’s no nonsense approach to player management led to the 21-year-old being dropped from the matchday squad for our 4-0 win over Newcastle. From the outside looking in, Guendouzi’s return to the starting XI in the FA Cup encounter up against Bournemouth a few days later inferred that water had been sent under the bridge concerning this saga. The current circumstances infer that may not have been the case.
After grappling at Neal Maupay’s throat following Arsenal’s dismal 2-1 loss at Brighton, the Frenchman somehow escaped a retrospective ban. However, the evidence suggests Mikel Arteta decided to take the issue into his own hands as he has since banished the PSG academy product himself from representing Arsenal himself. The fact he has missed 4 games rather than just the 1 insinuates that his expulsion from the matchday squad has been caused by a culmination of factors rather than the single mishap at the end of the Brighton game.
When questioned about the issue, Mikel Arteta always responds in a similar manner. He rarely speaks about Guendouzi specifically. Arteta instead generalities his typical response to a player with ill-attitude. He says that if a player is “willing, everybody is welcome.” So, Guendouzi is seemingly unwilling. The midfielder is not prepared to jump on board the “boat” which Arteta has metaphorically referred to. As such, his Arsenal future is in doubt. It is time for Arsenal to cash in?
Of course, the natural response to such a question would be no. Guendouzi is young and needs time to amend his personality. His immense talent in any other circumstance would be enough to give him another chance. However, in this circumstance, Mikel Arteta may want to prove a point. As a new head coach, an effective medium for him to stamp his authority would be to sell a player with such talent. He’ll show the squad that if any single player is not prepared to align with his vision, the conclusion to the matter will be simple, they will not have a future at Arsenal Football Club. Guendouzi’s potential sale could be looked back upon as a key moment regarding our head coach implementing an improved culture upon the dressing room.
If Thomas Partey does eventually join Arsenal, Guendouzi could also be sent a fair way down the pecking order in midfield. It’s likely that Partey will be brought into play as the number 6 role which Guendouzi operated in against City and Brighton. It’s without question that Guendouzi is years behind Partey in his development which would either force him into a role which suits him less or on to the bench as our second-string player in that position. After cementing his place in the Arsenal team as one of Unai Emery’s first choice midfielders at the start of this season, would the competetive Frenchman be able to accept such a demotion? It’s unlikely.
His ego suggests that a rehabilitation process is just impossible. He doesn’t come across as the sort of character who will admit that he is wrong with particular ease and this could be the key reason for his sale. Every passing matchday without Guendouzi in the squad insinuates further that his future could lie elsewhere. It’d be a great shame to see him leave as he is one of the most naturally talented players within the Arsenal ranks. Nonetheless, for Mikel Arteta, ability alone is not enough. If the right attitude isn’t there, you are not the right man for Mikel Arteta. Unfortunately, it seems incredibly likely that the youngster will be moved on in the coming transfer window.