Not Arteta’s form: Why Arsenal should have no regrets cutting Guendouzi and Aubameyang

COMMENT: It had to happen. Even those now rewriting history agreed with both decisions at the time. Mikel Arteta couldn’t move Arsenal forward with Matteo Guendouzi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on board…

They say the general population has a memory problem these days. But it must be at crisis levels for pundits and their fictional media friends online. Yes, Aubameyang played his part in Barcelona’s New Year revival. Yes, Guendouzi won his first caps with France thanks to the platform that Olympique de Marseille provided. But as Arsenal players. As Arteta players. They just didn’t match. Indeed, it was worse than that. Their presence has undermined all the work and effort the manager and his team have put into rebuilding this team – and this football club.

Of course, two straight losses and the online opportunists are back. But Arteta’s response after the London loss to Brighton was perfect. Claims about Arteta’s handling of Aubameyang – and to a lesser extent Guendouzi – only get oxygen due to back-to-back losses.

“I haven’t heard that question in the last six weeks, so I’ve already forgotten that question,” Arteta quipped on Saturday. “When you call us back with these questions, it’s always after a defeat and I don’t like to comment on things like that.”

Very well. Although we can go further. When was the last time a story leaked about a training ground burst since Guendouzi left? When have we debated the attitude and professionalism of the Gunners dressing room since Aubameyang secured his last-minute contract release? What about lack of effort? Salaries too generous? The bling? Detachment ? The tension between players and supporters? Where have all those stories gone that have so dominated Arsenal reporting… where have they gone?

Well that’s easy. They all followed Aubameyang from London Colney. Yes, they stumbled last week. On paper, away to Crystal Palace and at home to Brighton, Arsenal should collect six points. But it’s still a young and growing team. Just consider five in midfield for Brighton’s loss: Martin Odegaard, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli. All potential 10-year-old Arsenal prospects. A group of young players as exciting as any in Europe. But also, all at the very beginning of their career – including Odegaard. They are not at an age where consistency should be demanded. There will be dips. Lots of picks, of course, but no player of this quintet’s age should be ready for every game they play.

Odegaard (L) and Martinelli celebrate the Everton goal

Win that game in hand they have over Tottenham and Arteta’s side are back in the top four. Now is not the time to panic. And this is certainly not the time for recriminations.

But what about Aubameyang and Guendouzi? It’s not a hard blow for them. Both deserve great credit for how well they have thrived in new environments. This chronicle has long been a fan of Guendouzi and is particularly delighted to see him rewarded by Didier Deschamps this season.

But his time at OM was not lacking in artifice. He faced his teammates during matches. He antagonized the opposition with his words. Part of his arsenal? A game that needs that thorny personality clash to kick into high gear? Perhaps. And there is nothing wrong with that. As a fan. As a neutral. It’s great viewing. And in Marseille, he found a coach in the person of Jorge Sampaoli who is happy to see his players playing with this advantage.

But that’s not what Arteta is looking for in a player. A box-to-box monster. He can tackle. Pass. Harangue and inspire your teammates. It is undeniable that everything is there. But as we said, for Arteta’s Arsenal, Guendouzi just doesn’t fit. And this column would say that if Pep Guardiola had inherited Guendouzi at Manchester City, things would have followed the same course. Indeed, we predict that in two to three years we will hear a more mature Guendouzi admitting some regret at not getting his personality under control for the sake of his Arsenal career.

At 22, as a player to sign definitively in Marseille, Guendouzi arrived. We will see him at the World Cup this year. But that’s how football works sometimes. Arteta and Arsenal will have no regrets.

And the same can be applied to Aubameyang. In a Barca jersey, he comes across as a different player. True, he has a different salary. That club-record money that may have contributed to his fall from form at Arsenal is now replaced by a modest €5,000 a week. Again, thank Aubameyang for taking that gamble and rising to the challenge. But no one can honestly say that the current form we see from the Gabonese has always been there in his last 18 months as an Arsenal player.

Again, on the side of Arsenal, we should not regret. With Aubameyang’s departure came an opening for Martinelli to fill. He’s young. Still raw. But now it’s Gabriel Martinelli of Arsenal and Brazil. And even at just 20, Martinelli is on track to lead the line for his country at Qatar 2022.

Consecutive defeats are never welcome. But it’s crazy to suggest that Arsenal are not moving forward. Just like it’s about questioning Arteta’s decision-making. Critics can rewrite history all they want, but everything still points to Arsenal being better off with Guendouzi and Aubameyang not on board.

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