Matteo Guendouzi’s arrival from Lorient last summer drew little attention, with the main question on pundits’ lips being whether or not the 19 year-old would be part of the senior setup. Few would have predicted that, only eight months later, he’d be a key component in the Gunners’ revamped midfield. But then, few have met him.

A single hour with the steely-eyed Parisian would be time enough to convince anyone that this is no run-of-the-mill, dime-a-dozen youth player, as we found out during our shoot for SoccerBible Magazine Issue 12 in the sunny surrounds of north London's Wingate & Finchley FC. From his imposing physique and trademark afro to his old-school blend of attacking and defensive skills, Guendouzi stands out from the crowd. What will truly see him make his mark in the English game, however, is his determination – make no mistake, this is one French import that’s here to stay.

Matteo, how have you adjusted to life in London?

I’ve adapted very easily, because it’s a really beautiful city and there are lots of French people, which helps if you want to integrate yourself. The city suits me. There are lots of people, it’s welcoming, everybody is nice with you. I love my life here.

Why did you choose to come to England?

I’ve always wanted to play football in England. The Premier League is a wonderful league with great clubs, great players, great coaches. I’ve always wanted to play in this league, and now that I’m here I’m really happy.

Arsenal has a deep-rooted French connection. Were they always the Premier League club to join for you?

I’ve always wanted to play for a club like Arsenal because, first of all, there have been so many French players who’ve played there. I used to watch Arsenal on TV more than other foreign clubs. It’s not like any other club. It’s a legendary club with a big, big, big history. So, for me, it’s a dream to sign for Arsenal and today I’m living this dream and it’s wonderful.


Tell us about your football journey, from where you started to where you are now.

I began playing when I was very young, six years old. I started at Paris Saint-Germain because I grew up near where PSG trained, Saint-Germain-en-Laye. At the same time, I was practicing karate; I did both for a while, football and karate. Karate helped me a lot, then and now, because I learned how to be flexible, I learned movements, it helped me to build my personality and so on – it really helped me a lot. I stayed at PSG from six to 15, and then I signed for Lorient. I joined them at 15, and I signed my first professional contract when I was 17. And then everything happened and I ended up at Arsenal and living in London.

What have you made of London as a city?

It’s beautiful. I really enjoyed December because it was stunning, especially Oxford Street. It’s a wonderful street, well stocked with big shops and restaurants. The people are open-minded. When I’m with my family or my friends, when they come to London, we love the moments we spend together there. I’m really happy in this city.

Is it important for you to live somewhere that matches your personality?

Yes, of course, it’s linked. When you don’t feel good in a city then you can’t perform at your maximum when you play on the pitch. You think about lots of other things and don’t concentrate on your play. When you have peace of mind, when you feel good in the city where you are, with your family, your friends… when your environment’s right, you’re ready to face anything.

Has anyone taken you under their wing and helped you settle in?

Yeah, especially the French players, people speaking my language. They helped me settle in right from the start. They advised me a lot on and off the pitch. They told me what I could do to help integrate myself at such a big team as Arsenal. I got along with all the other players too. The whole team put me at ease and that's why I made a very good start to the season.

You’ve settled into the cut and thrust of the Premier League very quickly – the fans have certainly taken to you. How did you approach playing in a new country?

When I play football, I concentrate on what I need to do on the pitch, on what I need to do during training. I really concentrate on myself and my performances within the team. I ask myself what I can bring to the team. It makes me happy to be cheered by supporters, to be a fan favourite in the Premier League. It’s always a pleasure to experience, because it rewards all the efforts you made on the pitch and during training. It’s great, but I’ll keep my feet on the ground. I know I’m young and I still have a lot to do to become a superstar.


You’ve shown there’s bite to your game too – fans appreciate that. Do you enjoy the physical battle?

I love to fight for my team. When you get the ball back and you hear and see the supporters cheering you, applauding, screaming, you want to get back 50 more balls. I like helping my teammates offensively, but I know that as a midfield player, helping them in defence is also important. I love going to war for my team so I’ll intercept all the balls that I can. It’s not a problem for me.

Have you been able to hear the fans’ reaction?

Definitely. During matches, you feel a stare, you know they’re looking at you. They spur you on, they’re always there for you. And because of that, you want to do well for them. When you go for a walk in the city, you see them. They want to take pictures, they want you to sign autographs and so on. It means they’ve accepted you and that you can be proud of all the efforts you’ve made.

How does the experience of playing in front of English crowds compare to what you experienced in France?

It’s not the same atmosphere. English supporters live for football. You see them before matches, you see them in bars together. They live for it. In France there is a good atmosphere too, but in England you feel this amazing vibe everywhere, in every stadium you can feel it. In France the vibe changes depending on the place. In England, you can play against the team at the top of the league or the very bottom, and the atmosphere remains the same. It’s always crazy. You feel closer to supporters on the pitch in England too, because when you play they’re almost next to you, and it’s even more exhilarating! And then when you play away, you see the opposition fans scowling at you and it makes you want to fight against their team even more.

Let’s talk style. When did you start growing your hair? It’s quite a distinctive look... 

I’ve always had this haircut, since I was young. I’ve kept it and it helped me because people recognised me easily. They say, look, it’s that young guy from PSG, from Lorient, from Arsenal, wherever. I love my hair and I’ll keep it as it is until the end of my life. Unless I go bald! I hope I don’t. I want to keep it until I’m 100.


Have you found a barber out here you can trust with it?

No – my mum takes care of it when she comes to London. She brings good hair care products. She knows how to do it. She’s been doing it since I was young, she’s the expert. So there’s no problem. [Laughs]

Which players do you have a lot of respect for when it comes to style?

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, I love his style. He is amazing.

What about music? What kind of thing are you into?

French music. There are lots of French artists who make great music. Dadju, Maitre Gims. I used to listen to La Fouine a lot when I was younger. I love French music.

Have you been introduced to any English music since you’ve been here?

Yeah. I had the opportunity to spend some time with Craig David, actually. He’s an amazing guy and a great artist. It was a cool experience because he helped me discover his musical world and I learnt a lot.

Craig David, legend. Finally then, what are your aims for the rest of the season?

We’re in the round of 16 of the Europa League, so that’s the goal, to win that competition, because we’re capable of doing it. After that, for me personally, winning the World Cup in a few years with the French team. That’s the plan.

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Read the full interview with Matteo Guendouzi in SoccerBible Magazine Issue 12, which you can get here.

Photography by Madison Phipps for SoccerBible.