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Henrikh Mkhitaryan Talks Up Matteo Guendouzi and Discusses Return from Injury

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2019

SINGAPORE - JULY 28:  Matteo Guendouzi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Arsenal argue with referee for awarding the penalty kick to Paris Saint Germain during the International Champions Cup match between Arsenal and Paris Saint Germain at the National Stadium on July 28, 2018 in Singapore.  (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images for ICC)
Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

Matteo Guendouzi "can become one of the best in the world," according to Arsenal team-mate Henrikh Mkhitaryan. 

The latter also discussed his return from a foot injury after he briefly featured for Arsenal U23s against Boreham Wood on Monday night.

Mkhitaryan talked up Guendouzi, who joined the Gunners from FC Lorient for just £7 million back in the summer, during an interview with COPA 90 (h/t Metro).

The Armenia international forward revealed the advice midfielder Guendouzi is getting from his team-mates:

"He is 19 years old, he has to be focused on football! At 18, 19 years old he’s come here and is playing for Arsenal from Ligue 2 from Lorient. It isn’t everyone who can have this chance. I think he has big talent.

"We are telling him every day that he has to work very hard, he has to have his feet on the earth because he’s still 19 and has to work hard, hard, hard and he can become one of the best in the world."

While Mkhitaryan's praise is lofty, there is no doubt Guendouzi has impressed many since swapping the second tier of French football for England's top flight.

The precocious playmaker has been earning rave reviews recently, even for his performance during Sunday's 3-1 defeat away to Manchester City.

Get French Football News @GFFN

19-year-old Matteo Guendouzi in deep block pressure-reliever masterclass in this 1st half... so far.

A host of former Arsenal strikers lauded the youthful Frenchman's efforts at the Etihad Stadium, including Jeremie Aliadiere, who played with Guendouzi at Lorient.

Aliadiere, a squad player in Arsenal's "Invincibles," who won the Premier League title without losing a game during the 2003/04 season, told Football.London's James Benge: "He has probably been one of the only players that has shown that consistency every time on the pitch. Technically Matteo is rarely missing passes and they're always good passes, he doesn’t try passes that are too difficult."

Meanwhile, Ian Wright, who trails only Thierry Henry in the list of Arsenal's all-time leading goalscorers, took to Instagram (h/t Mark Jones of the Daily Mirror) to praise Guendouzi, who responded on the same social media platform with a pledge to continue working.

Aliadiere worked with Guendouzi at Lorient and has been full of praise for his former teammate.
Aliadiere worked with Guendouzi at Lorient and has been full of praise for his former teammate.Claude Paris/Associated Press

Guendouzi's rapid rise has made him a regular in central midfield on head coach Unai Emery's watch. The Spaniard has handed him 23 starts in all competitions.

Guendouzi has made 16 of those starts in the Premier League and also come off the bench six times. He's become a regular with fellow summer import Lucas Torreira and incumbent Granit Xhaka rotating alongside him.

Torreira and Guendouzi have been steadily forming a complementary partnership based on the ideal mix of tenacity and technique. It's a combination the Gunners have missed for too long in the middle of the park.

The initial success of Torreira and Guendouzi prompted another ex-Arsenal striker, Alan Smith, to rue the impending departure of Head of Recruitment Sven Mislintat:

Alan Smith @9smudge

If Sven Mislintat was indeed responsible for recruiting Guendouzi and Torreira, what a great shame that he’s going

Mislintat is expected to leave his role later this month. The one-time Borussia Dortmund talent-spotter also helped to bring Mkhitaryan to the Emirates Stadium from Manchester United last January.

Mkhitaryan, who once thrived under Mislintat's watch in Germany, has endured mixed fortunes since. Even so, Arsenal have missed the creative 30-year-old while he's been out since mid-December.

Fortunately, Mkhitaryan got 45 minutes under his belt before the academy game against Boreham Wood was postponed due to heavy fog.

He thanked Arsenal's medical staff and expressed his hope he will "be fully fit for the next games," per Benge.

The Gunners need Mkhitaryan, especially since Emery has been reluctant to start mercurial No. 10 Mesut Ozil regularly:

Sam Dean @SamJDean

Mesut Ozil's last five starts for #AFC: November 11: Wolves (H) December 13: Qarabag (H) December 22: Burnley (H) December 26: Brighton (A) January 29: Cardiff (H)

Arsenal's lack of creativity was painfully obvious against City:

OptaJoe @OptaJoe

0 - Arsenal failed to attempt a single shot in the second half against Man City; the first time they've failed to have a shot in a half of Premier League football since May 2015 vs Man Utd (first half). Limp. #MCIARS https://t.co/2p6KDxRUJy

Mkhitaryan can solve the problem if he can find some fitness and consistency. There is no denying his eye for a pass and his ability to combine with leading scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, nor his talent for finding the net himself.

Arsenal will need those qualities in a tight race to finish in the top four and qualify for next season's UEFA Champions League. The Gunners are sixth, but trail Chelsea in fourth spot by just three points, with Manchester United sandwiched in between and a point ahead of Emery's men.

There's also the not-so-small matter of the UEFA Europa League, with Arsenal facing BATE Borisov in the round of 32 on Thursday, February 14. Mkhitaryan won the competition with United in 2016, scoring in the final against Ajax.

His quality, along with the burgeoning influence of Guendouzi, gives the Gunners a strong chance of claiming a first European trophy since 1994 and booking a return to the Champions League.

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