When Arsenal acquired Matteo Guendouzi in the summer from Lorient for £7 million, the expectations were that he'd have a bit part role to play and probably gain the majority of his first-team minutes in the cups or off the bench.
But courtesy of his ability to adapt so rapidly to Unai Emery's demands, unwavering confidence and his undoubted quality, he's become an instrumental component of this Arsenal side. Indeed, the fact he's made 35 appearances, of which 28 have been starts, in all competitions, suitably depicts what an important figure he's become.
Tenacious, energetic and oozing youthful enthusiasm, his emergence has been one of the highlights of the Emery era so far, as the Spanish tactician has placed his faith in the youngster and been duly rewarded by Guendouzi through his performances. Being thrown in the deep end from the off, the French U21 international is clearly grateful to Emery for backing him and giving him a chance.
"He's shown plenty of confidence in me since I arrived here. Not any coach would throw a 19-year-old youngster into Premier League action, particularly at a club like Arsenal," Guendouzi insisted.
"I'm very grateful to him for that. He's making me work hard and has already helped me improve considerably since I arrived. I could feel that even in the first few training sessions over my first few weeks and months. I'm very pleased to have Unai Emery as my coach. I'm convinced I'll be able to make progress under him by working hard, which is the most important thing for me."
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Also aided by the Gunners' French speaking contingent, the exciting midfielder also credits the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Laurent Koscielny and Alexandre Lacazette, plus the tight knit, inclusive dressing room atmosphere, as key reasons behind his success so far.
Being tasked with operating in a number of different roles in varying formations, he's handled the step up in class from Ligue 2 to the Premier League with remarkable comfort on both sides of the ball.
To start with his defensive exertions, and his relentless pressing has been a standout, where he's followed his manager's demands wonderfully. So rapid to respond to pressing triggers, like when an opponent is receiving a sloppy backwards or lateral pass, if a pass is underhit or when his target is receiving back to goal or in an open body shape, his timing has been spot on. Vitally, he regularly curves his harrying nicely, in order to block off passing lanes behind him to limit the ball holder's options and force a poor decision or turnover.
Proactive and alert, the former Paris Saint-Germain prodigy has counterpressed with similarly disruptive intent, for he immediately brings the pressure when Arsenal lose possession in their attacking third. By doing so, he hopes to regain the ball instantly to avoid the opposition counter attacking while allowing Arsenal to attack again from an ideal advanced location.
Manful in competing in challenges both in the air and on the ground, his determination, fearless approach, long legs and vigour when applying his interventions has seen him win his fair share of duels. In addition, he's shown admirable judgement when dropping back into a mid block when required, where he'll maturely pick up opponents in his designated area, shift over to the ball near side or look to block central passing routes.
The man with the iconic frizzy hair has proven his worth just as effectively on the attacking end too. Always looking to make things happen with his ambitious and ingenuitive passing and dribbling, he's given Arsenal another dimension going forward. Never shy to attempt risky passes, Guendouzi's excellent passing range and repertoire has seen him create many dangerous scenarios for his team.
Loving to hit vertical line breaking passes, searing diagonals to put his wide men in preferable isolation battles, unleashing authoritative through balls over the top or partaking in intricate combination play, his playmaking qualities have been a real asset. Even though he tends to turn turn the ball over at times as a result of his enterprising nature, the way he backs himself has been a refreshing joy to watch.
Be it when Arsenal are building out from the back, attacking in advanced central locations or funneling their moves out wide, Guendouzi's certainly been a key component in connecting, constructing and animating Arsenal's possession phases.
Moving onto his dribbling, an area of his game that he uses to drive his team forward and destabilise his adversaries, Guendouzi's posed an unpredictable and elusive threat for many an opponent due to his aptitude in this regard. Using crafty ball handling, altering his pace and wicked body feints, his powerful, surging runs with the ball at his feet have been very useful to the Gunners. Regularly beating his man, drawing one or multiple men to press, earning fouls in advantageous areas or capable of holding onto the ball if no options arise, his control and press resistance have served he and his colleagues notably.
A shrewd mover to boot, he finds space intelligently and works hard to supply his mates with crucial passing options. Knowing when to push into strategically beneficial areas to manufacture positional and numerical superiorities, this ensures Arsenal can use their edge to bypass their opponents.
Picking his moments smartly when to motor upfield to embark on penetrative runs into the box or make third man runs, he's been a real challenge for his trackers when doing so, as he uses his momentum, plus capacity to direct and time his bursts, to frequently breach enemy backlines.
If he's not in a position to inherit the ball, Guendouzi's shown a strong grasp of how to open up passing lanes or space for teammates by dragging or pinning his marker, and through crisp rotations with his comrades.
Other details that Guendouzi executes neatly are how he scans his surroundings prior to receiving the ball and controls it with his head up, so he can assess his options without having to look at the ball. Indeed, these two aspects enhance his ability to execute his decisions due to the information he arms himself with.
By the numbers, the fact he completes 89.6% of his 57.42 attempted passes pg and makes just over eight passes into the final third pg at an 82.4% clip, plus completes 1.70 dribbles pg, 4.24 interceptions pg, 0.73 shot assists pg, 2.37 progressive runs pg, 0.9 key passes pg, 1.3 tackles pg, four ball recoveries pg, 5.3 lose ball picks ups pg and is fouled 2.17 times pg, illustrates his two-way output.
While Guendouzi recognises he needs to keep improving and developing his craft, he's clearly relishing working with and learning from the meticulous and demanding Emery, who's getting the best out of him.
Exceeding expectations emphatically, Guendouzi's unquestionably been one of the signings of the season. The challenge will now be keep up his excellent level, as he looks to propel Arsenal to a top four finish, and to go as far as possible in the Europa League.
In Guendouzi, Arsenal not only have a special talent for the future, but also for right now.