When the PFA announced its shortlist for the Young Player of the Year last weekend there were some startling absentees.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka, arguably the best right back in the Premier League, was left off the list, whilst James Maddison, impressive in his debut top-flight campaign with Leicester, also missed out.
However, there’s a player at Arsenal who has continued to go under the radar for large parts of the campaign and, if we’re considering this to be a Young Player of the Year award, Matteo Guendouzi has to be in the picture.
There are a couple of players on the list, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva, that are deserving of praise this term, but are we not completely missing the point of the award? Both players are 24, hardly young in today’s game.
In comparison, Guendouzi is just 20-years-of-age. It’s a stretch to say that he deserves the overall award but the midfielder certainly should have been in the conversation.
There is a feeling that outside of Arsenal the Frenchman isn’t particularly highly rated but the way he’s settled in the Premier League is undeniably impressive.
Arriving as a teenager from Lorient, Guendouzi has come from being a bit part of a Ligue 2 team to being a regular in Unai Emery’s side.
Whoever scouted him deserves a tremendous amount of praise because amongst the considerable spending we see in today’s market, the curly-haired defensive midfielder has been a remarkable pluck from essentially nowhere.
When he first signed for the club for an undisclosed fee in July of last year, no one really battered an eye-lid. Arsenal claimed he’d be a part of the first team squad but not many would not have imagined the impact he’d have at the highest level so soon.
For a man who doesn’t speak too much English, he’s settled at the elite level in some fashion and his ability to dictate the tempo of Premier League games, renowned for its fast pace, is equally spectacular.
He’s stood out against some of the top sides as well, no less so than against Chelsea a couple of months ago. The fact Emery trusts him in the big games just goes to show how much of an impact he’s made in north London.
It’s easy to go overboard on a young player but the 20-year-old possesses qualities the club hasn’t seen since the Invincibles era and the early days of Arsene Wenger.
In Wenger’s first decade or so at the club, he had players like Martin Keown and Patrick Vieira. They were no-nonsense individuals and stood up to the opposition if something wasn’t going their way.
Amongst the composure and technical ability, Guendouzi also has this. The way he got right in the face of Wilfried Zaha last weekend is all the evidence you need.
It’s probably no surprise, therefore, that he gets fouled as many times a game as he does. He’s a nuisance and that’s what makes him a joy to watch at times.
There aren’t too many comparisons to the 6 ft midfielder in the Premier League but Declan Rice, a nominee for the Young Player of the Year, seems a natural player to pit against him.
Rice has been outstanding this season and is arguably one of the front runners for the award. But in some senses, Guendouzi has been just as impressive.
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But despite that, the West Ham man’s defensive stats are considerably higher. You can either look at this and say that the Hammers have more work to do in that third of the pitch or you can argue the fact that Rice is simply better in that area.
If you focus on the season as a whole, Rice has been the better player, only just. But, you have to take into account that Guendouzi has come straight into one of the top sides in the country.
The France U21 international still has a long way to get to the level of some of the players on the shortlist, but it certainly wouldn’t be surprising if individual accolades came in the future.