Matteo Guendouzi – Key to Emery’s Fast Start

With the opening game of the season fast approaching, the attention of fans is drawn to the team that Unai Emery will select to play reigning champions Man City. After the World Cup a number of players from both sides will be unavailable for selection or a gamble after an extremely shortened pre-season.

For Arsenal, the signing of Lucas Torreira looks on paper at least, to have solved the problematic defensive-midfield conundrum that has plagued the side for years and left an already unstable defence exposed. However, it is unlikely that after such limited time with the squad and manager to understand the system, limited english and lack of fitness, that Torreira will be thrown into the first game of the season. The same goes for Granit Xhaka.
Matteo Guendouzi has been Emery’s starting pivot, or double pivot in preseason, playing more minutes than most other players and starting in Singapore and against Chelsea. Emery has shown faith the the young Frenchman probably with the first games of the season in mind. From the opening minutes of his appearance in Singapore, Guendouzi showed his abilities both on and off the ball, shuttling in front of the back four and covering when needing to, filling in for the advancing full backs and winning possession back. His range of passing and tendency to dictate a quick tempo suits the current crop of players well. He rarely spends long on the ball, preferring to release into the attacking players with haste. In possession, Guendouzi naturally plays with the expression and freedom his youth and haircut also exhibit, constantly looking for forward moves. Whether trying to break the lines by turning and galloping into spaces or playing penetrative short or long passes into gaps he first thought is always progressing the play. These are characteristics we can associate with the modern day regista, a deep playmaker able to dictate tempo and fire passes, but also dynamic in movement, as opposed to a more static deep lying playmaker in the mould of Xhaka.

Guendouzi is not without flaws, sometimes careless when dribbling with the ball and prone to a heavy touch, his large strides can save him, but he will need to make better decision in the area of the pitch he spends most of his time. Under the press he has been caught on a couple of occasions, bailed out with a soft free-kick and able to scramble the ball back another time. His playing style and skill-set are reminiscent of Alex Song during the 2010-2012 period, adventurous in possession and tenacious without.

City’s pressing game under Guardiola should be respected, and will certainly be as tough a challenge as he has faced so far in his career. Whether or not Guendouzi can handle the job is up for debate, but if he is to be successful he will be wise to be pragmatic rather than overconfident and not dwell on the ball in dangerous areas.

Whoever he plays alongside, his role will be integral to whether Arsenal make a strong start in the Premier League. The options for Emery are limited and Guendouzi has staked a real claim for a starting spot. Once both Xhaka and Torreira are back to full fitness it’s probable that Guendouzi’s appearances will be linked to the Europa League and domestic cup competitions, but he is making all the right statements early in his Arsenal career.

CJ Idun

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