Guendouzi gets France call


Matteo Guendouzi has been rewarded for his strong start to the season at Arsenal by being handed his first call-up to the France squad.

The 20-year-old has started all four of his side’s Premier League games, producing arguably his best performance for the club in Sunday’s 2-2 North London derby draw against Tottenham.

Guendouzi signed last summer from Lorient for an undisclosed fee believed to be in the region of £7m and earned immediate praise.

The 20-year-old’s all-action style was at odds with the other midfielders at the Emirates, with club legend Ian Wright describing him as “somebody who continuously wants the ball” and praising him for being upset when he lost the possession, perhaps in a dig at some of his more illustrious colleagues. Wright was at it again on Sunday’s describing the youngster’s showing in the derby as “magnificent”.

Guendouzi was due to join up with France’s Under-21 squad, for whom he has won nine caps.

However, an ankle injury suffered by Manchester United’s Paul Pogba has opened the door for him and he will instead be working alongside the world champion senior squad at Clairefontaine.

Les Bleus face Albania on Saturday before taking on Andorra a week on Tuesday and will expect to take maximum points as they aim to seal qualification for Euro 2020.

Unai Emery has clearly been encouraged by what he has seen from the Poissy-born youngster, telling reporters after the draw against Spurs: “He’s very young but he’s progressing.”

He added: “He gives us a lot of control and also the combinations for us mean he’s very important in the team. He’s one of the key players to do that.

“He’s working to get a balance defensively and also working on his body to get stronger in the situations needed in the Premier League.

“Today was one step more but he’s very demanding of himself and we’re progressing with him.”

Guendouzi has certainly played with more composure so far in 2019-20, an opinion borne out by the fact he is still to receive a yellow card. The starlet finished last term with 13 cautions, including two against Blackpool in the EFL Cup which saw him dismissed.

His passes per game rate is also substantially up in this embryonic campaign, averaging 59.50 to last term’s 48.42. He also has nine interceptions, seven clearances and three-headed clearances to his name.

The boy is providing the steel Arsenal have lacked for so long and will need to continue doing so as Emery tries to find a shape that accommodates his terrific trio of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe.

He may not be the most polished player but the youngster is surely now earning greater respect from his opponents and becoming a fully-fledged international will only add to his burgeoning reputation.