Arsenal need to improve their central midfield options. Given his talent and potential, Frenchman Matteo Guendouzi should be given the keys to the car.
The Arsenal central midfield is problematic. From the lack of goals following Aaron Ramsey’s departure to the flimsy protection of the defence; from an absence of control and command, especially against high-pressing opponents, to the inability to carry the ball into advanced areas, there are plenty of aspects that the current crop fall short in.
Spending will be required to solve the issues, make no bones about it. At present, Arsenal have no elite central midfielder. Mesut Ozil has declined drastically, Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira have their own limitations, whereas Dani Ceballos has not quite caught up the speed and intensity of the Premier League, although his recent performances have been promising.
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However, while there is no elite midfielder currently in the squad, in Matteo Guendouzi, the Gunners still have a player who has all the tools and the time to become one.
The young Frenchman can do it all. He is a terrific passer, a capable dribbler, strong in shielding the ball, fit enough to bound up and down the pitch, is a committed and decent tackler and interceptor, and has the athleticism to cover vast spaces, both when protecting against the counter-attack, something that he is excellent at, and when driving forwards on the dribble.
His best was displayed in the early part of this season. His performance in the North London Derby was stupendous as he singlehandedly dominated the midfield in a way that no other player in the squad can replicate. After the match, Robert Pires described him as a ‘warrior’:
“Matteo is a warrior. He had a fantastic match. He’s a combative player and what I like about him is that he is consistent with that. He does his job, patrolling defensive midfield, winning the ball, tackling well, and then playing the ball quickly and simply. That’s why he is an important player for Unai [Emery] and for Arsenal.”
Pires is not the only one to praise Guendouzi’s talent, attitude and potential. This was Arsene Wenger earlier this season:
“He looks to be a good potential. I think there are many other players who have fantastic potential, who played already with me, like Joe Willock and you have Reiss Nelson. You have many players who come out and have a big potential and Guendouzi is one of them.”
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Now, there are issues. He is positionally loose, to say the least, is brilliantly and brutishly empassioned, meaning he can both inspire a victory and spiral out of control into a damning defeat, and he has a propensity to aggressively chase after the ball, finding himself one step behind the play at all times. But unlike Xhaka and Ceballos and their lack of speed and athleticism or Ozil and his age and even Torreira and his range of passing, though to a lesser extent, his restrictions are fixable.
It is difficult to change the physical makeup of Xhaka or Ceballos, for instance. Sure, you can build their muscle and improve their sharpness, but there is only so bandwidth for improvement. Guendouzi’s weaknesses, on the other hand, are all fixable. His decision-making, his positioning, his hot-headedness, which is sometimes an asset, his aggressive defensive style. These can be coached.
For that reason, it is time to give the midfield keys to Guendouzi and let him put the foot to the floor. Let him loose. See what he can offer. Because Arsenal still have one of the most talented young midfielders in the world and it would be a great shame to waste him.