Arsenal midfielder Matteo Guendouzi was named the Gunners’ player of the month for September and while it could be argued that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was just as deserving of the award, the Frenchman’s start to the season has been exceptional.
At 20 years of age, he has been overshadowing many senior players in Unai Emery’s side, and he has looked far more mature than his years suggest. So where has the France Under 21 international improved this season?
He is prepared to run at opponents
Carrying the ball in the centre of the pitch is a brave thing to do. On the wings, losing possession is not the end of the world as you do have opportunities to recover the ball, but in the middle of the park, you can expose your backline to a counterattack.
Even so, Guendouzi is brave enough to do it. He averages 2.73 dribbles per game at the moment, with a 60.9% success rate. Last campaign, he averaged 2.28 dribbles per game, with a success percentage of 55.4.
His mazy run against Aston Villa to win the penalty in the 3-2 victory last month was the best demonstration of the Frenchman taking his opportunity to run at opponents in the right area of the pitch.
He is a ball winner
As well as his ability in possession, Guendouzi also makes the difference off the ball. Out of Arsenal’s six central midfielders, the 20-year-old is only second to Granit Xhaka in recovering the ball (8.2 per 90 minutes). He is even ahead of Lucas Torreira (7.9) on that metric.
On top of that, he has the highest percentage of defensive duels won (63%) as well as the highest number per 90 minutes (8.19) in comparison with his teammates.
It means Guendouzi is highly involved in the game on the defensive side, and it’s no surprise that Emery picks him regularly to start in his midfield.
He can thread a through ball
Guendouzi averages 1.8 through balls per 90 minutes: that is higher than Dani Ceballos, Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira and Joe Willock this campaign. The only player that has averaged more than that is Mesut Ozil, who has played just two matches.
One of those through balls led to Aubameyang scoring the equaliser in the North London derby against Tottenham last month, and it will be interesting to see if he can provide a few more assists like that one this season.
There are, of course, areas where Guendouzi can improve. He isn’t the most creative player in general but his job as a midfield enforcer in the middle of the pitch doesn’t always allow for that. All in all, though, he is making far more progress than many expected when he first arrived last year.