Mattéo Guendouzi has divided opinion at Arsenal. Well, across the board, actually.
Signed from Lorient – who finished seventh in Ligue 2 back in 2018 – under the watchful eye of Sven ‘Diamond Eyes’ Mislintat, the roughly £7m addition immediately raised eyebrows.
And not the bushy ones the Frenchman possesses, but those of the Arsenal supporters who had previously seen their club unearth gems from lower league clubs that went on to reach stardom in north London.
Fast forward two years and the debate as to whether this signing proved a masterstroke or not is far from over.
82 matches, five assists and one goal later, the view from the terraces over the 21-year-old is that he’s either a hidden gem that needs polishing or petulant youngster that let’s his head rule over his feet.
The latter of those outlooks cannot be disputed, as above any discussion of talent, the primary talking point on Guendouzi centres around his attitude. Throwing his arms up in the air with each decision that goes against him, getting caught up in the moment – often his own doing – or a lack of discipline both on and off the field are the main takeaways from his time in north London.
His impact on the pitch, whether good or bad, tends to take a backseat to those accusations and his short career has now reached a stage where suggestions have arisen that Arsenal should just cut ties with the midfielder.
But, should they?
Are the signs there that the club should stick with Guendouzi, nurture his talent, channel his aggression appropriately and maintain the faith?
On first glance, they aren’t.
What can’t be argued is that Guendouzi clearly has passion. Yes, his petulance can be unbelievably frustrating at times, but that demonstrates he cares and that he’s willing to fight.
What riles Arsenal fans is that he doesn’t use that internal fire in the right manner. Instead of moaning, losing his rag and committing clumsy challenges, it should transferred into his game. Because, on some occasions, we’ve seen that come together in a commanding manner.
The standout occasions this season has been the home draw with Tottenham and the comeback victory against Aston Villa. Trailing in both matches, he used that energy as a driving force for retaliation, grabbing both games by the scruff of the neck and pushing his side up the pitch with relentless running and his impressive athleticism. It’s just not often enough, though.
Trying to squeeze the best out of his ability is a weekly struggle. During glimpses in matches the ability he possesses comes to the fore, but it’s with frustrating irregularity.
His goal and assist rate isn’t great – especially considering the vast majority of his performances have been in central midfield – and what he actually brings to the team is considered by many to be nothing more than mindless running with little assistance in the final third.
Defensively, the tenacity he shows can be used to full effect, but he can’t be classed as a holding midfielder due to his eagerness to carry the ball through the thirds and, again, his poor discipline.
It was a disciplinary issue at a Dubai training camp that prompted Mikel Arteta to punish him internally, after a supposed row reached boiling point. And then, Arteta leaving him out of the Southampton team entirely due to ‘squad management’ was another incriminating indictment of his poor attitude.
He showed fight in the previous game against Brighton, but not in the right way. That’s the problem.
When it all weaves together on the rare occasions we’ve seen, you’d say Arsenal have got themselves an exciting talent that is destined for a long and fruitful career. For that to happen, though, it needs to be a perfect storm.
Expending this much time, energy and patience into Guendouzi for the odd decent 45 minutes must be a source of extreme frustration for Arteta. It is for the Arsenal fans, at least.
So, should they sell him now? My hat goes in the ‘no’ ring.
Which may sound odd given all of the above, but the reasons for it boil down to the head coach.
Applauded across the footballing world by all who’ve worked with him, the biggest praise bestowed upon Arteta is his superb man management. Above all the coaching ability and tactical nouse people claim he has, it’s his individual treatment and relationships formed with players that earns the most plaudits.
In that sense, should anyone be able to mould all of Guendouzi’s traits into the neat athletic, technical and driven package he’s capable of, it’s Arteta. It’s a lot to ask of a rookie manager, but Guendouzi clearly has the talent.
How long can he, or anyone, wait, though? The clock is ticking. Two years down the line and he hasn’t progressed as hoped. Whether it’s the remaining seven Premier League matches or the 38 to follow, there has to come a cut off point.
Yet, for now, the faith must be placed with Arteta to provide the right education and steer him down the right path.