March 2006, Arsenal v Juventus in the Champions League. ‘The King is Dead! Long Live the King!’ was the first line of the match report as an 18-year Cesc Fabregas dominated a 29-year old Patrick Vieira in the middle of the park.
This Champions League tussle had gone worse than Vieira could ever have anticipated. Humiliated by his old side, booed by his old fans, the Juventus player’s performance had gone some way to vindicating Arsene Wenger’s decision last summer to say a sad farewell.
You know you’ve been slow to react when Robert Pires, not exactly known for his tackling, pinches the ball from behind with a neat sliding challenge. That ignomy befell Vieira on the halfway line just before half-time and if that made him feel bad what happened next would only have made things much worse. The resulting move was both simple and devastating. Pires to Thierry Henry, Henry to Fabregas.
The 18 year-old slipped the ball confidently past the stranded Gianluigi Buffon before ecstatically wheeling away to salute the West Stand. Over on the other side of the pitch Vieira stood motionless.
The match not only justified Wenger’s decision to finally allow Vieira to leave after about 5 years of flirting with Real Madrid – the Frenchman was a shadow of his former self; but also vindicated his decision to replace him with a teenage Spaniard.
Not content with just a goal that night, Cesc also added an assist as he dominated the midfield.
Fabregas, by this stage, was totally bossing the match, linking up constantly with Henry in the attacking third. It was beautiful to watch: two world-class talents in riveting form.
The promise soon turned into something solid, something wonderfully inventive when Fabregas embarked on yet another burst into the box. Once Alexander Hleb had spotted the run, the result was almost a foregone conclusion. Drawing Buffon and two grasping defenders, the composed teenager slipped the ball sideways to the waiting Henry. Goal number two and a very useful cushion to take to Turin.
Now Jack Wilshere was certainly no Patrick Vieira. Not even close, and Matteo Guendouzi is some way off 18-year old Cesc Fabregas – but then has any teenage central midfielder ever done what he has done? but the comparison is clear and obvious.
In the summer, 26-year old Wilshere decided to call time on his Arsenal career as Arsenal failed to meet his terms. The Englishman had been beset with injuries for years, and like with Vieira, many felt it was time for him to leave.
Joining the club was 18-year old Guendouzi from Lorient in the French second division. Not really seen as a replacement for Wilshere, a few good performances in pre-season pushed him up the pecking order to the point where he started against both Manchester City and Chelsea – games Wilshere would have been in the starting XI for.
Guendouzi has quickly become a fans favourite and against West Ham will face the old Prince of Highbury, Wilshere.
Wilshere has already spoken about how he has a point to prove that Arsenal were wrong to get rid of him. Interesting use of language there that the Englishman sees him leaving on a free transfer as Arsenal’s decision, not his.
Young Guendouzi, meanwhile, will be motivated to show that Arsenal were correct in letting Wilshere leave, and looking at younger, fitter players.
Since he joined the club, Arsenal have released Josh Dasilva to Brentford.
Dasilva was rated highly by many of those that had seen him, but he is 6 months older than Guendouzi, who is clearly ahead of him in the pecking order.
Like with Fabregas, it is easy to forget that Guendouzi is barely an adult. He only turned 18-years old in April this year.
Against West Ham, and against Wilshere, he will have a chance to have his Fabregas moment. To show that he is better than the man he replaced.
Like Vieira defined the beginning of the Arsene Wenger era, Guendouzi could be the man to kick start the Unai Emery years.