In April 1999, Arsenal were involved in an epic title race with Manchester United that would eventually see them lose out by a point after a loss to Leeds at Elland Road in the penultimate game of the season. That may seem like a long time ago for Arsenal fans as it approaches nearly twenty years since that famous title showdown.
How times have changed and most of all how the mentality at Arsenal has changed in the two decades that have gone by. It was in between two home games against Blackburn Rovers and Wimbledon, where on the 14th of April 1999, Manchester United played Arsenal in an FA Cup semi-final where Ryan Giggs began a mosey deep inside his own half and the rest, as they say, is history. It was on this fateful day and some 430 miles away from Villa Park that Matteo Guendouzi was born in a town called Poissy in France.
ON THIS DAY: In 1999, Ryan Giggs scored one of the best goals in FA Cup history as Man Utd beat Arsenal after extra time to reach the final. pic.twitter.com/jyOAGluPz1
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 14, 2017
That name wouldn’t have meant much to Arsenal fans before July 2018 and would have meant even less to football fans around the world before the Gunners kicked their season off against City at the Emirates on the 12th of August. This would be, with all due respect to the Ligue 2 in France, the first time the world got a proper look at the 19-year old Arsenal had paid Lorient £7m for.
There was obviously a lot of chatter about Guendouzi by virtue of the fact that Unai Emery had plucked him out the depths of French football and seen fit to bring him to Arsenal where there would be a great deal of scrutiny surrounding the players he brought in during his first transfer market in charge.
What’s more was that it looked like Guendouzi would be far from the squad player many thought he would be as Emery put him in the starting line up to face a rampant City side. As debut’s go, it was an interesting one and when you have the hairstyle that Guendouzi has it’s hard to fly under the radar as he’s noticeable from every camera angle.
Matteo Guendouzi vs Man City
— Premier League Stat Man (@EPLStatman) August 12, 2018
It’s always going to be tough when your Premier League debut is against City as this isn’t just the best team in England but probably also Europe. Guardiola’s men are 5/1 in the William Hill Champions League odds to win the event which makes them outright favourites for European glory. Needless to say, Guendouzi had his work cut out for him when the English champions arrived at the Emirates.
It depends on who you speak to when asking how he fared in his debut, but looking at it objectively, there was the good, the bad and the ugly. The 19-year-old chased the opposition down well, ran with intensity and showed a fierce desire to win the ball back even if it meant snapping De Bruyne’s ankles to do so.
There were moments of concern too, the young midfielder gave the ball away a fair bit. He also lost his concentration in the second half after he misjudged the bounce of the ball which saw Aguero run clean through on goal only to be denied by Cech and then receive a telling off from De Bruyne for not squaring it for an easy tap-in. Fortunately for Aguero, Bernardo Silva sealed the win two minutes afterwards to spare the Argentine’s blushes.
When the opportunity presented itself, Guendouzi wasn’t shy when it came to pulling the trigger and having a go at goal. Sadly, his final effort in the second half was skied and could have quite possibly ended up on the Kings Cross line that runs outside the Emirates.
It’s never wise or fair to be overly critical of a debut and in many instances, Guendouzi can be proud of his contribution in a failing cause.
You can see exactly why Emery has brought him in as he is just the type of player that Arsenal needs. For years Arsenal have been without an industrious midfielder that enjoys nothing more than a crunching tackle followed by laying the ball off to someone with more skill. Guendouzi isn’t going to become that type of player overnight and will need time to get used to the Premier League.
It’s too early to say either way whether he is a pretender or prodigy but neither option is off the table until further evidence is provided