By 90Min
November 21, 2018

This summer, after 22 years at the helm of the club, Arsenal leader and legend, Arsene Wenger, finally left the club. The following months have been fascinating to watch as the club deals with this monumental change.

Naturally, all eyes are on Unai Emery - the man who has replaced Arsene Wenger as the team's head coach. The Spaniard will likely be judged more heavily than any other during this period of transition.

However, one certain young Frenchman - a 19-year-old by the name of Matteo Guendouzi - may just be the player most definitely involved in the on-field direction Arsenal take as they enter a new dawn in the club's substantial history. 


Of all the moves that Arsenal made over the summer, the signing of Matteo Guendouzi was probably met with the smallest amount of fanfare. Multimillion pound deals for bigger names such as Bernd Leno and Lucas Torreira understandably turned more heads.  

But, as the 19-year-old snuck quietly onto the scene, he quickly made a telling and immediate impression. After an impressive preseason, the youngster surprisingly forced his way into the starting lineup for Arsenal's league opener against Manchester City

The game was tough and Arsenal lost, but undeniably Guendouzi left his mark. He was bold, he was brave and he was unafraid despite the stage. I mean, this was a teenager playing against the best team in England - having  just come from France's second division - and demanding the ball from his teammates to set the tempo of Arsenal's game throughout. 

It's his fearlessness, his inability to be overwhelmed by the occasion, which has impressed Arsenal fans the most so far. Arsene Wenger's team were labeled as spineless in the later stages of his reign - the squad seemed to buckle under pressure; they seemed to have a weak mentality. 

In his early showings, Matteo Guendouzi seems to be the very opposite of this. He looks like a player who relishes the big occasion, who seems to thrive under pressure. He seems like a player willing and ready to fight with his back up against the wall. 

Regardless of the how the game is going, or who the opposition is, the 19-year-old keeps his head up, demands the ball, and barks out instructions on the field as if he'd been at the club for a decade, not a matter of months. 

Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

It shows something about Guendouzi's fearless character that he could walk into the dressing room of one of the biggest clubs in England and make friends with the team's two most expensive ever signings in no time at all. Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang joined the club for a combined fee somewhere in the region of £116m - the teenager arrived for just £7m.

Seriously, striking up an immediate friendship and bond with two of the biggest names at any club is a pretty unique and unheard of thing for a relatively unknown teenager to do. But not for Guendouzi, who instantly seemed to strike a rapport with the striking duo. It's hard to imagine either man had heard of Guendouzi before he arrived at the club, but a lack of reputation seems not to bother the kid.

Whilst his temperament, leadership and maturity on and off the field are certainly all aspects to praise and consider, it's also worth noting just how good he is as a player when it comes to more technical aspects of the game. Whilst he's not a specialist such as Lucas Torreira, Granit Xhaka, and Mesut Ozil in each of their respective departments, he can capably dip into each of those player's best areas when required.

On the ball he is tidy and proactive, capable of lifting the tempo, switching the play, or even picking out more creative passes - as seen with his impressive assist for Stephan Lichtsteiner in the Carabao Cup last month. Off the ball he is committed to the tackle, diligent, hard working and happy to give instructions to those around him.

The fact is, at such a young age, he already looks like captain material. Arsenal have struggled to find a reliable captain for a good while now. With Patrick Vieira being such a good leader, and Tony Adams before that, it's been an impossible job to find someone adequate since. 

Even now, Emery has chosen five different captains (with usual club captain Laurent Koscielny out for the long term) to lead the club in his first season - Ozil, Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Petr Cech and Nacho Monreal. That's all well and good, and it's a clever ploy by Emery to help the players share the burden of responsibility, but it does speak to how none of those five men seem particularly convincing in the role of skipper.

On the other hand, it's noticeable how often Emery reaches out from the sideline to communicate with Guendouzi during games. It already feels as if the Frenchman is one of the team generals; it feels as if he is relied upon, as if both player and coach trust one another. It seems like the teenager could be moulded into a loyal and perfect soldier for Emery; a captain to help achieve his manager's long term vision.

Catherine Ivill/GettyImages

What Guendouzi gives Arsenal and Emery - beyond somebody to finally challenge David Luiz for the league's best afro - is a combination of excellent technical ability, pure determination, and, perhaps what has been missing from this group for too long: natural, fearless, leadership. 

He could be the spine, the backbone, in a team battling forward into a new era. He may still be raw - a tendency to get caught dwelling on the ball a little too often, and a recent red card in the Carabao Cup, both show this - but his rise has been rapid and mistakes are to be expected. 

Undoubtedly, the early signs are positive. So please, believe the hype. 

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