The resumption of the Premier League began in calamitous fashion for Arsenal. Back-to-back defeats to Manchester City and Brighton and Hove Albion all but ended the Gunners’ hopes of a late charge to secure Champions League football next season.
While a 2-0 win away at Southampton and an FA Cup victory over Sheffield United have helped arrest the slide, even a UEFA Europa League place looks like a long shot for Mikel Arteta’s men. Injuries to Bernd Leno and Pablo Marí have only compounded the feeling the current campaign is already a write-off.
Therefore, it’s unsurprising that much of the talk surrounding Arsenal in recent days has focused on the future rather than what’s currently happening on the pitch.
Long-running sagas have continued to rumble on. Mesut Özil’s omission from the starting line-up is as divisive as it’s ever been, as is David Luiz’s controversial one-year contract extension. Concerns about the influence of agent Kia Joorabchian at boardroom level have also been reignited by the decision to award his client Cédric Soares a four-year deal – a somewhat perplexing move when you consider that the 28-year-old is yet to pull on an Arsenal shirt and wasn’t held in the highest regard at former club Southampton.
But a new debate has emerged among the Gunners’ fanbase – what is to be done about problematic French midfielder Mattéo Guendouzi?
It’s a question few would have raised during the 21-year-old’s first campaign in North London, after the prodigious youngster signed from Lorient in the summer of 2018. Guendouzi was hailed as one of the bargains of that season thanks to a series of performances that belied his £7million price-tag. A player signed with one eye on the future, he exceeded all expectations and instantly became a first-team regular – racking up an impressive 48 appearances in all competitions in 2018/19.
Even in the early stages of this season, his performances were good enough to earn a call-up to the French national team squad in September, hinting at a bright future for the Parisian midfielder.
Things haven’t gone to plan since, however. On the pitch, Guendouzi’s form has dipped and across the 2019/20 season it’s fair to say his displays haven’t matched up to those of the previous year.
He is attempting and completing fewer passes (59.31 and 52.41 vs 67.14 and 58.91 per 90), having fewer touches of the ball (76.25 vs 82.56 per 90) and creating fewer chances for his team-mates (0.62 vs 0.71 per 90).
His defensive stats are just as disappointing. Guendouzi is winning fewer duels (6.18 vs 5.97 per 90) and recovering the ball less (7.02 vs 6.02 per 90), despite completing more clearances in 2019/20 (1.75 vs 1.01 per 90).
That drop-off may have something to do with a wider malaise at Arsenal this season. The midfielder is certainly still young enough to turn his form around. But a far bigger concern is Guendouzi’s attitude, which has increasingly started to overshadow his talent as a footballer.
There were rumours the youngster could be a difficult character even before he arrived in North London, having fallen out with former manager Mickaël Landreau at Lorient. A similarly strained relationship with Arteta now appears to be developing, after a series of high profile incidents since the Spaniard arrived at the Emirates.
Guendouzi was dropped for Arsenal’s 4-0 victory over Newcastle United back in February after a reported bust-up while the team were at a training camp in Dubai. Arteta was believed to be unhappy with the player’s attitude and body language.
“The reason is that players who, in my opinion, are training better, behaving better and are more applied to deliver on the pitch what we want, are the players that are selected,” the Gunners’ boss said when asked about Guendouzi’s omission after that game – a clear message that the Frenchman was falling below the required standards.
His recent antics after the defeat to Brighton – grabbing Neal Maupay and apparently taunting opposition players about their inferior wages – will have done little to reassure Arteta the youngster’s mindset has improved. He was left out of the matchday squad for the following game against Sheffield United.
Which brings us to the obvious question; is it now time for Arsenal to cut their losses on a player who doesn’t appear to have the emotional maturity to match his footballing ability? Guendouzi certainly seems open to a move and has made those feelings known internally according to L’Équipe.
With two years remaining on his contract, this summer feels like make or break for a player who should still be considered one of Arsenal’s hottest prospects despite a difficult season.
A rebuild is under way at the Emirates Stadium and only those willing to get on board with Arteta’s methods and standards are likely to be retained. Ultimately, no matter how big a star Guendouzi could become, he is of little use to the Gunners if he isn’t willing to tow the party line.
Perhaps this is the right time for a fresh start for both parties – if a buyer can be found. It would represent a disappointing conclusion to an Arsenal career that started with such promise but may be necessary for both Guendouzi and Arteta’s side to thrive in the seasons ahead.