Very few young Arsenal midfielders convinced me immediately.
I saw through the facade of Denilson, navigated the intrigue around Fran Merida and laughed off the shambolic Emmanuel Frimpong.
Not since Cesc Fabregas’ emergence as a first-team regular have I been this impressed with a young player as I have been with Matteo Guendouzi.
I’ve sat in the North Bank at the Emirates for much of this season and witnessed first-hand the 19-year-old’s effortless transition from unknown quantity to Gunners stalwart in a mere matter of months, an almost identical feat to the one achieved by Fabregas in his Arsenal infancy.
It was the Spaniard’s unwavering confidence that stood out to me more than anything during his Highbury days.
And watching Guendouzi this season is giving me all sorts of nostalgic flashbacks.
Don’t misinterpret my words though.
Guendouzi might be immensely talented but by no means am I saying the Frenchman is the second incarnation of Fabregas in terms of his technical ability or playing style.
However, there are definitely similarities between the pair that fill me with confidence that the future of Arsenal’s midfield is in safe hands.
I’ve been convinced ever since I set my alarm to catch a glimpse of the mysterious prospect on Arsenal’s pre-season tour of Singapore.
The Frenchman’s performance against Chelsea in the Gunners’ penultimate pre-season outing mesmerised myself, other Gooners, and Unai Emery too.
The gaffer threw the youngster in at the deep end for his Premier League debut a week later.
The Frenchman had a baptism of fire against the champions Man City, which signalled a remarkable rise to stardom for Guendouzi.
Just a few months prior, he cut his teeth in a Lorient side that finished 7th in Ligue 2.
All of a sudden he was tasked with marking Kevin De Bruyne — talk about a step up.
You could easily be forgiven for overlooking his humble beginnings as, after all, the midfielder possesses an unrivalled level of confidence that could fool you into believing he’s been with the Gunners for years.
It’s a confidence that many young players struggle to muster, a confidence Dimitar Berbatov described as “unbelievable”, before adding that it “p*sses me off.”
Perhaps most satisfying of all is how Guendouzi, similarly to Fabregas during his Arsenal days, has become public enemy No.1 for rival fans.
When not throwing pizza in the direction of Man United’s most successful manager, the Spaniard’s swagger and arrogance at such a young age would often send opposition supporters into meltdown.
It’s pleasing to see Guendouzi follow in the footsteps of his Spanish predecessor, as one thing Arsenal have lacked in recent years is sh*thouse players, those players who other teams and their fans just love to hate.
The numbers behind Guendouzi’s debut season make for impressive reading when you consider he’s already just two appearances shy of matching his career total before his summer move.
A modest one goal and two assists in 28 appearances has been matched with a respectable passing accuracy of over 88% across all competitions for the Gunners.
One noticeable difference between the debut seasons of Guendouzi and Fabregas is the quality of team-mate the latter was afforded.
A fresh-faced Cesc had midfield juggernauts and respective World Cup winners Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva to draw wisdom from in his formative years.
In stark contrast to this, Guendouzi’s Arsenal baby steps have seen him paired alongside Granit Xhaka and fellow Premier League newbie Lucas Torreira.
“BuT iT’s JuSt HiS hAiR !1!1!” is exactly what the non-believers love to preach about Guendouzi.
If Football Twitter was a thing when Fabregas was breaking through can you imagine how much of his adulation they would attribute to his mullet?
The highlight of Guendouzi’s Arsenal career so far…
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