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Matteo Guendouzi’s controversial start fails to pay dividends despite his impressive performance

Updated: Feb 4, 2020

By Daniel Finton

Matteo Guendouzi's surprise inclusion in the starting eleven against Burnley on Sunday, ahead of Lucas Torreira, was certainly a somewhat controversial decision from Mikel Arteta. The French youngster had an impressive performance last Monday against Bournemouth, helping the side to secure a win in the FA Cup fourth round tie.

On the face of things, Guendouzi’s addition made some sense. Given the rather erratic nature he brings, it would seem on paper that he’d add an unpredictable element to the gunners attack and defence as well. But unfortunately, throughout the match as a whole, the workload placed onto Guendouzi was pretty ridiculous. The youngster did not crack under the incredible pressure, but he was not as prominent on the day as he can be due to his teammates failure to match his work rate. Given the amount of work he was expected to do offensively and defensively, the 20-year-old did quite well, notwithstanding those who are older than him and more experienced in the squad were incapable of doing the same.

Throughout the first half, which was a poor one, Arteta’s men did quite well coping with Burnley’s perpetual aerial efforts. The 20-year-old was tasked with marshaling Sean Dyche’s striker, Chris Wood, who is arguably one of the most dangerous aerial threats in the league. The Frenchman’s 'shithousing' nature contributed to frustration from the Burnley players who complained he was solely watching Wood, rather than the ball. In fairness, he certainly was, and in my eyes, that is a good thing, especially against a side like the clarets. Guendouzi did well at managing the 6’3 striker from set pieces, despite his obvious aerial inferiority, throughout the entire first 45 minutes.

Despite the pivot of Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka not being nearly as solid as that of Xhaka and Torreira, it certainly looks far more solid under Arteta than it did under Unai Emery. When Xhaka ventured forward to create, Guendouzi maintained his positional discipline and vise versa.

Whilst the first period struggled to entertain, Guendouzi did not do himself any harm. The more underwhelming performances came from those playing up front. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette both had phenomenal chances to score and failed to do so.

The second half continued in it’s cagey manner, with the attack again failing to convert their chances. It began with the substitution of Bukayo Saka, who was replaced by Torreira. Guendouzi now partnered with the Uruguayan in the middle of the park, while his former pivot partner, Xhaka, was asked to adopt the left back position from Saka who was hooked because of the senseless beating he received throughout the entire first half.

The second half was arguably worse than the first for the Gunners and Burnley looked by far the better team. The Clarets had several high quality chances in this period, particularly from set-pieces, to secure three points in the fixture, but failed to convert. Despite the controversy around the Frenchman’s inclusion, to me, he seemed one of the few looking to make things happen. The workload bestowed upon him, given Arteta’s insistence on persisting with Mesut Ozil, saw him tasked with bridging the attack and defence, acting as a creator and back four protector as well. The youngster somehow managed to carry out the ever abundant amount of tasks quite well, but was sloppy on the ball on a few to many occasions. Luckily, Arteta seemed to finally notice that load on the youngster was far too relentless in the 63rd minute. Ozil was subbed off and Joe Willock came on. Willock failed to have any obvious impact on the game but his evident, higher work ethic helped to lighten the preposterously high load placed onto Guendouzi in the first hour of the match.

All in all, the gunners as a collective whole were extremely poor on the day. However, Guendouzi was one of the few that appeared to ‘be himself’ in the harsh conditions that Turf Moor always promises.

After the onslaught Dyche’s men put our defence through, they did well in not cracking. The bright side of a pretty damning result and performance is that we achieved another clean sheet. Though some luck was involved, such as when Jay Rodriguez smashed the bottom of the cross bar when seemingly more difficult to miss, Guendouzi and co that were responsible for keeping the ball out of the net, carried out their jobs to a decent standard. In the end, it was the attacking players who let the defence down.

A much needed 2 week break is now on the cards for Arsenal, before our home game against Newcastle. The gunners are still sat 10th place after bagging their 13th draw of the season yesterday. Let’s hope the forthcoming fixtureless period rewards us with a rested and rejuvenated Arsenal side returning to action come February 16th.

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