In the autumn of 2019, Matteo Guendouzi was on cloud nine. A popular figure in the Arsenal team, nominated for the FIFA Golden Boy Award and handed his first senior France call-up, the midfielder was onto big things.
How times have changed for the 22-year-old, who has been spat out by the Gunners after 12 months of turmoil at the Emirates Stadium.
The midfielder sealed a move back to Marseille on Tuesday on a loan move with an obligation to buy for the French side, after Guendouzi had confirmed his exit from the club on social media this week.
Matteo Guendouzi (left) was popular at Arsenal and was nominated for the Golden Boy in 2019
The midfielder completed a move to Marseille this week on a loan with an obligation to buy
Much was expected of the Frenchman in England, who look to be one of Arsenal’s all-time great bargains at just £8million. Unai Emery trusted him for over 50 matches due to his dynamism, directness and connection with the supporters, with the midfielder hitting peak form at the start of his second season beginning in mid-2019.
He dazzled during home matches against Tottenham and Aston Villa during Emery’s final few months in charge, putting on quality assists and being a bright spark amid some poor results.
But Emery’s sacking at the end of November 2019 started the wheels in motion of Guendouzi’s decline at the club. Mikel Arteta came in and gave the Frenchman a chance – an opportunity that was taken away from him at the end of a campaign that he started so brightly.
Guendouzi excelled under Unai Emery (right) who played him regularly for 18 months
But Emery’s successor Mikel Arteta (right) ended up dropping him due to his discipline
The Frenchman started Arsenal’s first two matches after the coronavirus hiatus – defeats by Manchester City and Brighton – and that was the last time Gunners fans saw him in red and white.
Indeed, Guendouzi’s last singular moment at Arsenal was him throttling Brighton striker Neal Maupay at the final whistle, in a match where the Seagulls man inflicted serious injury on Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno before scoring the winning goal in stoppage time.
Arteta dropped the young midfielder immediately and while the Arsenal manager refused to go into detail as to why he was dropped, it was clear that attitude and discipline were at the centre of dispute.
Guendouzi’s last Arsenal game saw him choke Neal Maupay (left) after a 2-1 loss at Brighton
‘Some things have to change, and nothing has changed,’ was the first public statement regarding Guendouzi that Arteta made in the summer of 2020.
The Spaniard would go on to claim that he wanted ‘players that respect the values we want to implement, that are 100 per cent committed to our culture’.
The way Arteta would go on to refer to the way he wants his squad to control ‘the way he reacts to certain things, the way he behaves in training, during games’ implies the Maupay incident had a larger impact than just a small post-match tiff.
While the incident with the Brighton striker was shocking and unexpected, a little more research from the Arsenal hierarchy could have predicted that the midfielder would have been a contentious character.
The exiled Guendouzi was described as a ‘pain on a daily basis’ by one of his former coaches
The player’s former manager at Lorient, Mikel Landreau, described the Frenchman as a ‘pain on a daily basis’ irrespective of his talent.
‘He annoyed me terribly, he is very complicated to manage,’ said Landreau.
‘He sometimes has some behaviours within a group that are very, very hard, but somehow, that’s what he is: big. He doesn’t let go, he is a fighter. He has an oversized ego, but he certainly needs it.
‘I think he needs to be in the spotlight, to be a leader. He needs to be a captain or vice-captain, and he will try to make the most of it.
‘Because that’s the way he is. And that means that his team-mates have to accept him the way he is, because he’s a pain on a daily basis. He’s a pain on a daily basis, but on the other hand, he’s talented.’
Arteta winning the FA Cup while Guendouzi was shunned justified him dropping the midfielder
Guendouzi did not appear in an Arsenal matchday squad for the rest of the 2019-20 season, with academy player Matt Smith – who spent the next campaign at Swindon and Charlton – getting the nod over the Golden Boy nominee.
Arteta leading Arsenal to the FA Cup that summer with other midfielders helped to justify Guendouzi’s exclusion. Keeping Dani Ceballos on loan for another season and signing Thomas Partey for £45million made Guendouzi’s chances of a Arsenal recall vanish.
After spending the entire 2020 transfer window trying to find him a new permanent challenge, a loan spell at Hertha Berlin had to do for Arsenal. Only a superb turn of form would have turned Arteta’s head from the ongoing problems at his own club, Guendouzi’s time in Germany was neither a success or a failure.
On top of that, Arteta saw first-hand the positive impacts youngsters can have on the team. Bukayo Saka is Arsenal’s and now England’s darling golden boy, while Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli are set for more first-team action next season.
Meanwhile, the man named alongside Erling Haaland, Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho as one of the top young players in the world two years ago is now back in France, where Arsenal plucked him from in 2018 to give him a shot at greatness.
Guendouzi was sent out on loan on to Hertha Berlin last season but did not impress many