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Matteo Guendouzi proved who he is in first half

Matteo Guendouzi played at the base of Arsenal’s midfield against Brighton. In the first half, he was superb and proved exactly who he is and what he can be.

Few doubt the natural ability of Matteo Guendouzi. Watch any number of his performances in an Arsenal shirt stretching right back to his first preseason with the club and it will tell you everything you need to know. At his best, he is a bustling, bristling, brilliant midfielder with a wide range of passing, deceptive speed and size, and an aggressive streak with an understated bite.

But for his natural ability, it was always difficult to know where he would best fit in a system. Central midfield, of course, is his best position, but is he better suited to a holding role in front of the defence that curtails his more energetic moments or do you release him to hare around the pitch in a more advanced position?

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Guendouzi’s primary shortcoming is his positional discipline and defensive awareness. He is a good defender, when he knows what to do, but he often makes ill-advised decisions that pull him out of the space that he should occupy and unhinge the defensive system as a whole. He will charge after the ball and vacate his position. He might stand off an attacker when he should close them down. He is sometimes slow to react to looming danger and does not always sweep up as a true defensive midfielder should. Contrast his defensive instincts to Lucas Torreira and it is telling.

But these weaknesses, while obviously detrimental to his value and pertinent regarding his style of play and utility in Arsenal’s midfield, are not unfixable. Unlike Granit Xhaka’s immobility or Torreira’s limited range of passing, Guendouzi’s issues can be coached out of him. And when he is fully focused and acutely aware of his responsibility, he performs at a tremendously high level, one that he is capable of reaching on a regular basis.

In Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion, we saw Guendouzi reach this level in the first half. At the base of the midfield in place of the absent Xhaka, he was superb. He sprayed passes left and right, especially to Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left flank, dictated the tempo of Arsenal’s play in possession, often finding space to receive the ball from the centre-backs and play out from the back, and dominated the central midfield areas.

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Under Unai Emery, Guendouzi often played a little further forward as Xhaka started in the holding role. Similarly, Arteta has used Guendouzi in a right-sided central midfield position in a 4-2-3-1 which also featured Xhaka in another conservative manner of playing the position. But on this occasion, it was a 4-3-3 and Guendouzi was the lone holding midfielder, flanked by Saka and Dani Ceballos.

This is the shape that Pep Guardiola has made famous at Manchester City. It will likely be Arteta’s formation of choice, too, especially as Mesut Ozil, who is an out-and-out number 10 and cannot play deeper in a 4-3-3, is eased out of the starting XI. In this shape, Guendouzi has the ability to play all three central midfield roles, but Saturday’s superb first-half performance illustrated where he is best-suited.

Next: Arsenal Vs Brighton: 3 positives despite disastrous defeat

Guendouzi has the potential to be an elite holding midfielder. He must curtail his hounding and harrying. He must control his emotions and he must fine-tune his decision-making. But the talent is all there, and Saturday proved it.

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