Arsenal Saturday feature: Matteo Guendouzi has come a long way since playing at Peterborough's London Road for France U18s
PUBLISHED: 10:29 25 August 2018 | UPDATED: 10:40 25 August 2018
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It is November 2016. A freezing cold night at Peterborough's London Road.
England U18s take on France U18s.
Michael Cuisance, a cultured left-footer who will have a stellar season in the Bundesliga with Borussia Moenchengladbach 12 months later, is replaced by an all-action youngster with distinctive hair.
His name? Matteo Guendouzi.
The young French side dominate, moving the ball superbly all the while displaying their range of technical ability – and the substitute plays a big part in their excellent performance after coming on.
The doughty England U18s ultimately hold on for a goalless draw to lift the International Trophy.
In a quirk the French win 5-4 after a penalty shootout which had no bearing on the destination of the silverware, but the meagre number of those assembled on the night, including a considerable number of scouts, are left in no doubt many of the French teenagers have a big future in the beautiful game.
Fast forward nearly two years and the same lad with the Sideshow-Bob hair is starring in the Premier League for Arsenal.
Head coach Unai Emery has hailed teenage midfielder Guendouzi after the talented youngster’s impressive performances against Manchester City and Chelsea this season.
The youngster’s all-action performances against the past two champions of England, which allied with his passion, has made the former Lorient starlet an unlikely hit with the fans already this season.
Despite two defeats in two matches there has been nothing but goodwill for the former French U18 midfielder after he signed for the North London giants for £7 million from the Brittany-based Les Merlus.
Speaking ahead of the London derby with West Ham at the Emirates Emery praised the former PSG academy star.
He said: “He is improving. He is playing and working every day. He is hungry - he wants to improve, he wants to learn every day, every match.
“He is doing it his way, with character and quality. We are very happy with him but every match is a chance to show this progress with consistency.”
With midfielders Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka and Luca Torreira all vying for a crucial midfield spot, Guendouzi’s eye-catching shows this month have meant he has been inked onto the teamsheet ahead of more established players.
The decision to opt for the raw teenager has been a shock to many observers, but what of Emery?
The former PSG boss admitted Guendouzi’s impressive form has been unexpected to him as well, but not a complete shock after being aware of the youngster when managing in France.
He replied: “It is a very big, positive surprise with him. Two years ago we played against him when he was starting to play for Lorient.
“Last year he was in Ligue 2 but when the club spoke with me about him, the club had worked and watched him, we agreed and when he arrived here – not the first day, which is very difficult – but after two weeks we spoke and said: “his performance is a very big surprise” but also in each training and match we need him to show this progress consistently.”
For those who saw the young Guendouzi on the cold Monday evening in Peterborough two years ago, perhaps his progression hasn’t been that much of a surprise.
Follow Arsenal reporter Layth on Twitter @laythy29