Guendouzi upstages Arsenal's fearsome front three and gets Xhaka off the hook in north London derby draw
The French midfielder delivered a performance belying his relative inexperience to drag the Gunners back into the game against arch-rivals Spurs
All the talk before the first north London derby centred around Arsenal’s fearsome front three – but it was a 20-year-old midfielder who stole the show during a thrilling 2-2 draw.
Arsenal fans have been waiting since the summer to see Nicolas Pepe, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang start for the first time and they finally got their wish against Spurs.
And two of them struck as Unai Emery’s side fought back from two goals down to salvage a deserved draw, with Lacazette and Aubameyang cancelling out goals from Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane.
But it was Matteo Guendouzi who was the driving force behind the comeback, with the young midfielder playing a huge part in both goals.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Guendouzi was plying his trade in the second tier of French football under 18 months ago, such has been the ease in which he has adapted to the Premier League.
Arsenal had looked down and out against Spurs when Kane had doubled the visitors’ lead from the penalty spot five minutes before half-time after Granit Xhaka’s inexplicable foul on Son Heung-min.
But Guendouzi had other ideas and the way he pressed the Tottenham midfield to win the ball back in the build up to Lacazette’s goal just before the break encapsulated his performance.
While other more senior players struggled around him in Emery’s new 4-3-3 system, he flourished and became the key figure in the game.
Guendouzi dominated the second half as Arsenal pressed forward searching for an equaliser.
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He was unlucky not to get one himself with one effort which was destined for the bottom corner before being pushed wide by the outstretched hand of Hugo Lloris.
But he did set it up the goal which earned the hosts a point, bending in a perfect cross which was turned home clinically by Aubameyang. It was no more than Arsenal and Guendouzi deserved.
We’ve seen countless impressive performances from the young Frenchman since he arrived in north London as a relative unknown from Lorient last summer, but this was his finest display in an Arsenal shirt.
For a player of his age and relative inexperience, to seize control of a game of this magnitude – when others around you are struggling – speaks volumes.
In all he made 58 passes, only Xhaka made more, and 41 of them were in the Spurs half. He also gained possession seven times, made three tackles, two interceptions and won 50 per cent of his 12 duels.
It was a performance that belied his tender years and Xhaka would be well served to thank his less experienced team-mate.
Quite what was going through the head of Arsenal’s captain when he dived in and took out Son to give away the first-half penalty only he will know, but it was an inexplicably poor decision.
Spurs were already 1-0 up at that point through Eriksen’s close-range finish and, when Kane confidently smashed home the resulting penalty, it looked like they would earn their first league win at the Emirates since 2010.
But Lacazette struck just before the interval, thumping a finish past Lloris after being found by Pepe, and the goal gave Arsenal the lifeline they needed.
Aubameyang levelled in the second half and the hosts thought they had won it when Sokratis turned Sead Kolasinac’s cross past Lloris soon after, only for the goal to be correctly ruled out for offside.
In truth, a draw was a fair result and it was enough to keep the Gunners above their rivals going into the international break.
Arsenal remain a work in progress. Up front, they are as powerful as always but, defensively, the same old problems remain.
They got away with it against Spurs, thanks to their strikers and Guendouzi. But Emery needs to find a solution quickly to the defensive issues which will continue to hold Arsenal back.