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The Impact of Mikel Arteta’s Coaching on Matteo Geundouzi


Matteo Guendouzi is another of those Arsenal players that is dividing opinion strongly in one direction or another. Fans are either on board with his talent or find him to be an issue that needs addressing.

Admittedly as a writer but also as a coach, I tend to see the immense talent he has but get really concerned about the deficiencies I see in his game. There is no denying that there is talent there. Some of the more direct passes from deep he can make show you that. But then there are the issues that make you wonder.

In case you were wondering what those perceived issues are:

  • Poor decision making on the ball – typically will make a few too many passes with his head down unaware of the situation around him
  • Poor situational awareness – a few times the eventual goal scorer will make a run past him only for him to realize it after it’s too late
  • Can be too aggressive – creating unnecessary fouls in dangerous areas, putting his team under pressure
  • The strops when it doesn’t work – it’s a similar critique made of Jack Wilshire, having a strop when fouled or not fouled and taking himself out of play as it continues on

All that said, it’s not my opinion that matters though. Its what Mikel Arteta thinks and as he’s clearly stated, every player starts without any baggage under him.

Guendouzi burst out onto the scene when he got an unexpected start to kick off the Unai Emery era. He was one of the staples of the former head coach’s first-choice XI, featuring regularly.

Guendouzi under Emery

As we began to look at Guendouzi, we asked for feedback on what everyone thought was his worst game in an Arsenal shirt. Overwhelmingly, people said the 3-2 loss to Palace at the Emirates in April of 2019.

With that as our benchmark, we reviewed that game and a few other parts of other matches and overall the perception that he “was bad” is unfounded.

Did he sometimes march to beat of his own drum? Of course, and it is an admirable quality in a young man, but one that puts him at odds with the rhythm of his team on the pitch at times. But overall it wasn’t that poor a performance. Especially when you consider the following:

  • We started that home match vs Palace with a back three with Carl Jenkinson featuring in that lineup
  • Guendouzi was paired with Elneny as the midfield duo, and of course
  • Mustafi did a Mustafi

The truth be told, as Arseblog wrote in his player ratings at the time – “A lot of passes, a lot of touches, but too much petulance and not enough impact.”

All of that is in line with the issues we cited earlier.

You also have to take into account the general disarray of Unai Emery’s tactics at the times. Players were all over the place, and no one was playing any defined role except perhaps the position they were in on the pitch told them to do.

In that match versus Palace, Emery had Guendouzi playing a more left-sided attacking role. He attempted 88 passes for a passing success rate of 89.8% and if it weren’t for Saed Kolasinac’s inability to make a decent cross we might have remembered Guendouzi’s role in the match a little differently.


Guendouzi pass map and heat map outlining is positioning vs Palace

The frenetic nature of which many watched Emery’s Arsenal lent itself to perceptions about players that at times may have been over the top. Guendouzi is no exception.

Guendouzi under Arteta

As we mentioned, Arteta was very clear from day 1 – every player starts anew. And that approach may have taken Guendouzi by surprise.

In James McNicholas’ piece in the Athletic the other day, the picture of an extremely confident, competitive, and combative individual is painted. He is a player who said, “I hate to think that the person in front of me is better than me.”

So, to not feature regularly under the new head coach may have been an eye-opener for him. Part of it undoubtedly is Arteta’s effort to re-establish a hierarchy and sense of order at a club that may have seemed chaotic to the former player-turned coach upon his arrival.

Some of it also is likely down to his attitude, as stories about his over-confidence rubbing his teammates the wrong way and clashes with the coaching staff are littering the airwaves lately.

Still, you only need to look at the performance he turned in against Bournemouth in the FA Cup to know that if he listens to Arteta and accepts the coaching that is being given to him he can thrive.


Guendouzi pass map and heat map outlining is positioning vs Bournemouth

As we asked what his worst performance in an Arsenal uniform was, we also asked what his best – and the FA Cup performance stood out. It stood out for all the right reasons and diametrically opposed to the issues you typically see in Guendouzi’s play.

First, his positioning in the midfield was balanced; he wasn’t running all over the place. His play was primarily in the central areas of the pitch and he played a disciplined game sitting deep, offering cover to the back line. Hardly was he ever caught up field leaving the midfield exposed. His energy in the press was more effective and he seldomly was “over enthusiastic” in his closing down space in the press – which in the past would see him overplay the man on the ball.


Guendouzi’s positioning in the FA Cup tie vs Bournemouth was disciplined and controlled. He always seemed to be in the right spot. (image courtesy WYSCOUT)

He found himself in good positions time after time to win the ball as Bournemouth looked to break.

More impressive was his positioning as Arsenal looked to build play. Under Emery, you hardly ever saw Guendouzi enter into the midfield space to receive the ball from the back line. When he did, he often came in flat with his back to the opposition unaware of what was going on around him.


One of the tweaks Arteta has clearly worked on with Guendouzi is his entry into the midfield area when the team are looking to build up play. He comes in between the two forwards, checking space with the ability to advance the ball through the next line (image courtesy WYSCOUT)

This typically resulted in Guendouzi playing the first available pass which was usually right back to the center-back who played him the ball.

Against Bournemouth he was typically entering the midfield between the two Bournemouth forwards and with his body opened, head scanning the midfield looking to make sure he knew what was going on around him.

And when you look at the underlying data behind the match (combined with what we saw) you can see the impact of these little tweaks and the validation of a good performance:

  • 86.8% pass success rate (68 successful passes)
  • Aerial success rate of 66.7%
  • 21 Ball recoveries
  • 3 blocks
  • 98.1% carry success rate (53 successful carries)
  • Tackle success rate of 75% (completed 4 tackles)

Here’s the interesting point though, the numbers aren’t too dissimilar to his performance in the match deemed his worst. The biggest impact is the coaching. The system, putting players in roles that makes them successful and getting them to buy into what they are doing. It has helped at a minimum create a more positive impression of a player who looked as lost as the rest of the team under Unai Emery.

Lingering Issues

Even with the improvement seen, we have to remember that this is still a young player and there will be setbacks. As good as his performance was in the FA Cup, he immediately didn’t start again until and was left out of the squad completely reportedly because of his behavior issues previously mentioned.

He’s seen more of the bench than the pitch under Arteta, partly, it is assumed, because of tactical reasons. It could also be part of trying to help him improve into the player Arteta thinks he can be.

The Bournemouth match proved that if he is open to the coaching and plays to the game plan prescribed, he can be an effective player for Arsenal.


This is an imperfect process, as matches following his performance against Bournemouth have shown with some of his bad habits returning. There will be setbacks, drama and the like, but the club clearly remain high as ever on his ability and confidence that positively oozes from his every pore.

He is still coming into his prime and we will all have to be patient with the process – even armchair pundits like myself.

Editors Note: Special thanks goes to @GiantGooner for our ongoing discussions about Guendouzi that filtered its way into the construct of this piece. All stats referenced are courtesy of @Statsbomb





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