In the space of just two weeks, Mikel Arteta has seemingly communicated his methods and ideas better than Unai Emery ever did over 18 months as Arsenal manager. Knee-jerk conclusions should be avoided, but the Gunners already look to have been revitalised by the change in management, with the 2-0 New Year’s Day win over Manchester United the best illustration yet of what Arteta expects from his players.
There is talent for him to work with. Arsenal’s squad is unbalanced in places, particularly in defence. Central midfield is surely another concern, but in Matteo Guendouzi there is a young player for Arteta to mould. The Frenchman is far from the finished product, but that might suit the Spanish coach just fine. He needs players to forge in his own identity.
Arsenal’s transfer strategy has been scattergun for quite some time, but in Guendouzi, signed from Lorient for just £7 million in the summer of 2018, they unearthed something of an unpolished diamond. There are inconsistencies to the 20-year-old’s game, he still has a lot of developing to do, but Arteta should be the ideal mentor for him.
Of course, Arteta was an anchoring midfielder, and a pretty good one at that. He was taken for granted at the time, but Arsenal have lacked a player like Arteta - a central organiser and dynamo for others around him - for years. Guendouzi has the potential to be that player, albeit with significantly more dynamism than Arteta ever possessed.
Midfield is a bit of a wasteland for the Gunners. Granit Xhaka is expected to leave North London in the coming weeks, with Hertha Berlin believed to be interested in the Swiss international. Arteta has a number of creators to choose from, with Mesut Ozil revitalised and Dani Ceballos set to return from injury shortly, but few to provide structure.
This is what Guendouzi will be used to do. Arsenal require structure in every way, from their passing patterns to their positions and responsibilities on the pitch. If the midfield is the engine of a team, the Gunners are currently playing without pistons. Reports state Arteta has prioritised defensive recruitment this January, but midfield reinforcement is surely on his mind as well.
For now, Guendouzi gives Arteta somebody to build around in the centre of the pitch. The young Frenchman, plucked from obscurity through good scouting, represents the kind of club Arsenal must become again and in the new manager, he has somebody who should give him a better chance of realising his obvious potential.