It takes something quite special indeed to fuel a sense of indignation in a player who has just, intentionally or not, injured an opponent. Credit where it is due to Matteo Guendouzi, he showed he had exactly that.
That Neal Maupay felt compelled to use his post-match round of interviews to question the “humility” of Arsenal players and in particular one Frenchman speaks volumes for how riled up he was.
Does that necessarily lead to the Brighton striker’s late goal that consigned the Gunners to a 2-1 defeat? It is of course impossible to know but it would also be fair to note that many a footballer has reached a higher level than they might otherwise when they are playing with a bit of anger.
Perhaps the overriding message of The Last Dance was don’t anger Michael Jordan. Whilst Maupay is nowhere near that level of transcendent brilliance you don’t have to be to score goals against this Arsenal defence.
What is clear is that Maupay was playing with a chip on his shoulder, one likely caused by Guendouzi. “Some of their players need to learn humility,” Maupay said, “especially one of them.
“I mean he was talking the whole game but was saying really bad things, I don’t want to say what he said because I could be in trouble. It was in French because he is French.
“So when I scored I just needed to say ‘that’s what happens when you talk too much on the pitch.’”
Of course the identity of the compatriot who so angered Maupay is unclear but it is fair to assume that he did not cross paths all that often with the other Frenchman in the Arsenal side, Alexandre Lacazette.
Meanwhile Guendouzi has already developed quite the record of riling up opponents and their fans. At times it is a great weapon in his arsenal, his ability to needle others into making clumsy errors, into overcommitting.
Think of him clipping Miguel Almiron on the opening weekend of the season, denying Newcastle’s danger man an excellent opportunity whilst conceding just a free kick. His look of astonishment when Martin Atkinson signalled for the foul became all the more hilarious when he turned to the bench and winked.
Part of the reason Guendouzi proved to be such a success when he arrived was the near arrogance he exuded, even as a teenager. He joined Arsenal with most outside the club assuming he was a project for the future. He refused to accept that and earned a spot in the first team through force of will and prodigious talent.
Why should you sign up?
In each football.london Arsenal bulletin, we’ll be bringing you the latest breaking news, transfer features and comment pieces, as well as the key talking points for fans.
We’ll also send special newsletters when big stories break or there’s a special event happening.
How do you sign up?
It’s easy and only takes seconds.
Simply type your email address into the box at the top of this article – or any article on the Arsenal section of football.london in fact – labelled ‘Get the biggest daily stories by email’ and click ‘Subscribe’.
And that’s it, you’re all set.
If you decide later that you no longer wish to receive the emails, simply follow the unsubscribe link in one of the newsletters – but we don’t think you’ll want to.
For more details, click here.
That quality is still there to be tapped but increasingly Guendouzi seems more interested in pitched battles than outplaying his opponents. There has already been evidence of Mikel Arteta’s frustration with the youngster’s attitude – he was dropped from the squad that beat Newcastle due to his demeanour during the winter break in Dubai – and there is concern from those who know him well over his maturity.
“He’s grown up as a player, he’s matured massively as a player and every year he gets better,” Jeremie Aliadiere, a former team-mate of Guendouzi at Lorient, said last month.
“But unfortunately as a man, he hasn’t grown and matured as much as I thought he would by joining Arsenal.”
That was evident on Saturday, where his inability to compose himself was reflected on the pitch.
There is a difference between that and the running battle he seemed to be conducting with Maupay. When Guendouzi cynically fouls an opponent but then gets on with his own business he is in control.
The player who appeared to grab Maupay and who replays seemed to show swinging an arm at his opponent, albeit with little force, was not one that was master of his emotions.
Arteta deployed a familiar defence from an Arsenal head coach, saying when asked about Guendouzi: “I don’t know, I haven’t seen the action.
“I’ve seen a lot of players getting together but I don’t know what happened. It’s the frustration because we’ve thrown the game away and that’s a reaction that can happen.”
That Guendouzi got riled up is understandable. Brighton themselves did not seem to be above a few sly challenges when they were out of sight from Martin Atkinson. Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette both appeared to go down after colliding with Yves Bissouma off the ball.
Bernd Leno was understandably furious with Maupay’s late challenge, one which caused an injury the Gunners will assess over the coming days. Arteta fears his goalkeeper may have suffered a hyperextension of his knee, one which would place strain on his ligaments.
The question is how Guendouzi channeled his frustration? In the first half the youngster had performed impressively as the deep midfielder in Mikel Arteta’s 4-3-3. He sat in front of Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding for most of the half, breaking up play with two shrewd interceptions and releasing quick balls to the flanks when the opportunity presented itself.
Come the second period and he was altogether more erratic, pushing further forward but contributing less to the attack. Twice early in the game he had delivered penetrative passes towards the flanks but those were few and far between after the interval, when his passing map became increasingly focused on sideways and backwards passes.
Five of his six interceptions had come in the first half. Three of the four occasions he lost possession were in the second half, two of them seeing him give the ball away in his own half.
Yet worst of all was to come after the final whistle when Guendouzi grappled with Maupay. It remains to be seen whether retrospective action will be taken by the FA over the incident with television cameras appearing to show him grabbing the Brighton striker by the throat.
It was unnecessary in any circumstances but Arsenal need their holding midfielder, the man who is supposed to be the brain of a side, to show a little bit of composure. Risking a ban when your side is already without Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreria suggests Guendouzi was not thinking carefully.
Players in Guendouzi’s position are not supposed to be so easily swayed. Take Fernandinho and Fabinho or even the likes of Nemanja Matic. They do not lose their cool. That is reflected in performances that rarely swing from one extreme to another.
That is all too typical of Guendouzi. At his best even against Brighton there were flashes of a player who could develop into an excellent midfielder, particularly an early passage of play that started with him releasing Nicolas Pepe down the left and ended with him stopping an attack on the edge of his own area. But rather than separate himself from events as the game got ever more spiky he seemed to throw himself head first into the melee, losing everything that was so encouraging about his start.
The cause for concern ought to be that Guendouzi seems to believe that he cannot be the best version of himself if he tempers his attitude. “My personality has always remained the same,” he said in 2018.
“I think that is also why today I can do everything I do at Arsenal, and why I got here.” His head coach’s experience would suggest the opposite; if Guendouzi is going to establish himself as the Gunners’ anchor man he will find it is a position where cool heads prevail.
If Guendouzi is going to infuriate opponents it should serve a purpose, it should aid Arsenal’s chances by getting under the skin of their rivals. Right now you fear that he is more likely to rile Arsenal than their opposition.