If the transfer rumor mill is to be believed (which... maybe it shouldn’t be), Unai Emery wants to re-unite with Matteo Guendouzi from Arsenal. Given the financial situation this summer, I would guess such a deal would be a loan to buy, just to space transactions out the right way. Guendouzi is an immensely talented young player, but he’s had his issues off the pitch. I contacted a friend of mine, Vijay Rajaji, who follows the Premier League closely and writes for the American Scouser website to see if he could give me a non-partisan look at what this player brings to the pitch. Here’s what he had to say:
Matteo Guendouzi, point blank, is available because he is a royal pain off the field. As an EPL watcher, I’ve been impressed with his play from the eye test. He has some pretty good skills but if Arsenal, a team that could use him, is giving up on him, that’s probably problematic. But let’s stick to what we see on the field.
On the field, he is a great deeper lying distributor. He excels at moving the ball and getting it forward. He averages 41 medium length passes per 90 and averages 93% completion on those. To me, that shows that he’s able to find guys down the field and get the ball to them. With Arsenal, he’s got guys who can find channels like Pierre Emrick-Aubameyang and Alexander Lacazette. That helps because he’s moving the ball up the field and moving it quickly. Averaging 41 medium passes per 90 tells me he gets the ball and moves it fast. Arsenal isn’t a team that sits on the ball much. He also is excellent as a deep passer. On passes longer than 15 yards, he averages 15.5 per game with an 85% completion rate. That’s absolutely excellent from a midfielder. His passing game is the best part of his game.
To further that point, he averages 6.75 progressive passes per 90. Not only is he moving the ball around quickly, he’s getting it up the field and not just passing back and forth laterally. His xA is middle of the road for a midfielder but that’s often because Arsenal have some play makers up front so he’s getting the ball quickly to them and they are then getting more of the assists.
You’re typically not looking at your midfielder to be an excellent dribbler but and he’s better than average there. He averages 71.4% success on his dribbles. It’s not super star level but with his passing quality as good as it is, this adds a nice piece to his play. It keeps defenders off balance. When he gets pressed because of his passing ability, he has shown that he can dribble past guys. And that requires defenses to remain honest. He is multi-faceted as a talent going forward. And remember, he’s 21. He was getting 24 90s with Arsenal at 19 years old. Yes it’s a rebuilding Arsenal but that’s still a big club playing big games. He wasn’t doing this against 17 year olds or 2nd division players.
Where he isn’t quite as good is the defensive side of the ball. He is good but not great yet. He only stops 25% of dribbles against him. He acts tough often but he doesn’t dive into tackles and guys can get past him. He also averages 1.16 tackles won per 90. So he doesn’t attempt many, which is good because he’s not great at them. Other than intercepting the ball at a pretty good pace, he isn’t a guy who is going to be your defensive stalwart. His defense is much more positional. He tends to be in good places but to be honest, getting around him isn’t the hardest thing in the world. When watching games, you will see that if he is isolated against a good dribbler, he can be taken. Having someone like Pau Torres behind him would be helpful since you’ll have some cover behind him.
In the past, Unai Emery has shown that he will play a double pivot. In a system like that, pairing him with Vicente Iborra would be perfect. If you look at the way the two play, Iborra is excellent as a defensive side midfielder but struggles getting the ball up field. Guendouzi is the opposite. Having the two play together would be excellent as you have the balance of playing defense with Guendouzi progressing the ball up the field.
All in all, the reason he is available and at a reasonable fee is that he is evidently a pain in the rear off the field. But with the veteran leadership here at Villarreal along with a club that’s not in turmoil, and with a coach that used Guendouzi regularly, I think he would be a great fit here. He adds a midfield playmaker that will help. And he has top 4 level talent but bottom 3 mentality – if Emery can mitigate the off the field stuff, he will be a bargain and a steal for Villarreal.
We have discussed at some length what sort of system Emery might run at Villarreal and the double pivot is certainly one of those options. If we end up going the route of buying two older Valencia players this summer instead of dropping a club record tying fee on Zambo, getting a young talent like Guenouzi might be a really great fit. The off the field stuff is a concern, but there’s a certain level of talent that we simply aren’t going to be able to get if we don’t take risks in that area, and often they pay off very well under the right manager.
Emery believed in the player at Arsenal and if rumors are to be believed he still believes in him at his next stop. To Vijay’s point about how Iborra and Guendozi might complement one another, notice the wide variety of statistical patterns covered between the two players over the last two seasons:
As a pair in a double pivot, these two would give you a little bit of everything. If we had them, Trigueros, Parejo, and Coquelin all in the mix for three midfield roles I think we would find ourselves with a midfield unit that top to bottom was one of the best three or four in the league.
Long way yet before any kind of deal happens, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.