When Mikel Arteta arrived at Arsenal, Matteo Guendouzi was valued at £45m and was a regular first team starter, but a handful of games later, he was out of the squad altogether, so what happened between Mikel Arteta and Matteo Guendouzi?
Matteo Guendouzi played 48 games for Unai Emery in their first season at Arsenal. Coming to the Premier League from Ligue 2, Guendouzi slotted right in without any need for an adaptation period and, while he showed some of the flaws you would expect in any youngster, his value rocketed and Arsenal fans really thought they had a midfielder they would be adoring for many years.
The following season, Guendouzi featured again in every Premier League match for Arsenal under Emery but when the Spaniard was sacked at the end of November, things changed very quickly for Guendouzi, as they did for a few of the players who arrived when Emery was in charge, namely Sokratis, Lucas Torreira, and William Saliba.
Arteta was appointed on 20 December 2019 and was in the stands as Arsenal drew 0-0 at Everton the following day. For the first time in the league that season, Guendouzi was on the bench. While you could point to Freddie Ljungberg picking the team for that game, for Arteta’s first match in the dugout, Guendouzi was, once again, on the bench for the match against Burnley.
Guendouzi got his first minutes for Arteta in the league the next week when he started and played the full 90 against Chelsea before he was back on the bench, getting only eight minutes as Arsenal beat United 2-0.
In total, Guendouzi played 90 minutes under Arteta just three times and didn’t even make the Premier League squad for the final eight games of the season.
From a guaranteed starter, the youngster had been banished from the squad.
What happened between Mikel Arteta and Matteo Guendouzi?
Arsenal travelled to Brighton on 20 June, 2020, for a match that would have consequences for a number of players at the club.
Bernd Leno had been badly injured when Neal Maupay shoved him, ruling him out for the rest of the season and giving Emi Martinez the chance he would then use to demand he be made Arsenal’s number one, despite the fact that Leno had been one of the standout stars of the squad that season.
At the end of the game, that Arsenal lost 2-1, Guendouzi grabbed Maupay by the throat briefly, but Martin Atkinson took no action. There were reports Guendouzi would be retroactively charged but no punishment came, at least not from the FA or Premier League.
It was reported, but never confirmed, that Guendouzi had spent the game taunting the Brighton players about their wages. A childish thing to do, for sure, but hardly the worst thing that happens on a football pitch.
“He was saying the Brighton players were s**t and that he and his teammates earn so much more than they ever will,” said a Daily Mail source.
“He’s done it in other games as well. Arsenal are a decent club and hate that sort of behaviour.”
This, it seems, burned Arteta’s last straw as Guendouzi never played for the club again.
Mikel Arteta’s negotiable non-negotiable stance
When he arrived, Arteta wanted to make sure the players knew who was boss. There were a few ‘hard lines’ drawn up which were said to be ‘non-negotiable’ although that depended on who crossed them.
In February 2020, Guendouzi apparently made a bit of a show of himself when the side flew to Dubai for mid-season warm weather training.
“The training incident,” David Ornstein revealed, “was a mid-session altercation with one of his team-mates, which led to both men being pulled up by Arteta, although the 20-year-old was deemed the guiltier party and given a more stern dressing-down.
“But also during the five-day camp, Arsenal’s technical director Edu had to tell off the Frenchman for his behaviour at an external event,” Ornstein added. “The group were enjoying some local music when Guendouzi briefly removed his shirt and waived it around in support of the act.”
Guendouzi’s actions alone were said to be enough to anger Arteta but it was the midfielder’s reaction to his dressing down that is said to have helped seal the end of his time at Arsenal.
Matteo Guendouzi – attitude problem or youthful arrogance?
Things, as always, are easier to understand with the passage of time.
Guendouzi arrived at Arsenal as a nobody from Ligue 2, who had turned down PSG and Borussia Dortmund to sign, and was immediately thrust into a Premier League first team starting role and handed £40kpw.
Before Arteta arrived, there had been consistent talk of a new and improved contract that would almost double his wages, as Arsenal legends talked about Guendouzi’s potential to become an Arsenal legend.
Fans loved him, and his attitude was a large part of that.
At the time of the ‘fall out’, I felt Guendouzi was acting the knob and needed to wind his neck in, which is likely true, but looking over things now I can’t help but wonder if Arteta arrived at Arsenal with an idea that he didn’t like Guendouzi, regardless.
Guendouzi had trouble previously, with his boss at Lorient saying he was “very complicated” to manage. Former Arsenal youngster, Jeremie Aliadiere, who also had a spell at Lorient, told Le Telegramme, “Frankly, from the point of view of talent and purely football, if I’m just talking about that, there is no surprise.
“After, during my last season in Lorient, when he started to train with us and to play, I had a little question about his attitude.
“I said to myself: He’ll have to change a bit. He’s in Lorient, so it’s understandable, it’s a small family club, that’s it. But if he wants to climb the ladder and go play in a big club, his attitude will have to change. I think he understood that right away when he arrived (at Arsenal).”
At Arsenal under Emery, however, if there were any problems, we didn’t hear about them.
So what about his loan spell with Hertha? Their manager, Pál Dárdai, said, “It’s like puberty for him, he’s kind of a rebel. He has to work and learn like an animal.
“In training, I always stop these kinds of duels (like the one where Guendouzi lost the ball, allowing RB Leipzig to score a second goal, by falling over to try and win a free-kick) because you can’t fall to the ground like this. And, afterwards, he’s mad.”
The midfielder, who had started and played 90 minutes in 12 consecutive league games before Dárdai took the job at the start of 2021, then started five of the new manager’s 12 Bundesliga games.
Hertha’s sporting director, however, praised Guendouzi’s calmness. “He’s a fantastic player,” Arne Friedrich said. “He’s so calm. He wants every single ball, even under pressure. He has his own understanding that he wants to win games.
“[Guendouzi] has this intrinsic motivation to just show the world how good he is. This is what we need, this is what everybody needs and he is highly confident, which is also very important for our team because our team is still looking for structure.
“We are very, very happy to have him here and he’s worth every penny.”
What happened between Mikel Arteta and Matteo Guendouzi? Conclusion
Charles Watts stressed last summer that Guendouzi “isn’t responding in the way Arteta wants,” although it’s not clear what that actually means.
Did it mean he wasn’t shutting his mouth or wasn’t following instructions? We don’t know.
“Potentially not so much what happened in terms of the incident at Brighton,” Watts continued, “but the way Guendouzi has acted since it. In the talks, in the disciplinary meetings that Arsenal had.”
For a club desperate for both good players and more money, that’s just awful management all around.