Since the arrival of Arsenal’s current Club Captain, Laurent Kioscielny, there have seemingly been close links between Lorient and The Gunners. Certainly the likes of Giles Sunu, Francis Coquelin and Joel Campbell have had loan spells there with the Brittany-based team.
One might logically have assumed that the links were down to the friendship between long time Les Merlus manager, Christian Gourcuff and ex-Arsenal supremo, Arsene Wenger. The former left Lorient in 2014 and of course, Wenger finally departed in 2017 but the Arsenal surprised most of the football world by swooping last summer for an unknown (outside of Brittany) starlet Matteo Guendouzi.
Since the midfielder’s arrival, I have followed, interviewed on radio and stayed in touch with the supporters behind Lorient Fan Site @ASMerlus. They expressed surprise at Arsenal fans labelling Guendouzi as a defensive or holding midfielder, as he has only ever been box-to-box growing up and was utilised in an attacking free role last season in French Ligue 2. It was also then that informed me of an interview with Koscielny, not picked up in this country, in which Arsenal’s long-serving, injury-plagued skipper, had expressed a desire to finish his playing career back at Lorient.
Whilst Spurs and even Barcelona are reportedly sniffing around central midfielder Julien Ponceau, as Les Merlus push for promotion back to Ligue I, the player that has piqued my interest on their playing staff, is the exciting attacking midfielder Alexis Claude Maurice. The 20-year-old French Youth International has contributed nine goals and three assists so far and this has helped take Lorient to just outside the automatic promotion positions. However, Lucas Le Texier (@FcLorient560 – another Lorient fan I have been chatting to – fears Maurice may be tempted away from his beloved Lorient even if promotion back to the French big-time is attained.
I took the opportunity to quiz Lucas on the young playmaker…
DS: Alexis Claude Maurice can play anywhere in a 3 behind a striker or as a second striker, I believe, but where is he playing for Lorient and where do you ultimately see as his best role or position?
LLT – Yes, it is true, this season Maurice has primarily been used on the left of a three. However, I think his best position is behind the striker. Growing up he was playing offensive midfielder and especially this season he has a tendency to return to the axis of the field. In my opinion, he is more of a playmaker than a player who overflows.
Below a goal that shows the player’s pace, technique and coolness
DS: What would you say are his major attributes and strengths – and indeed, his weaknesses?
LLT -Undoubtedly, his main qualities are surely his vision of the game, his maturity as well as his frequency of chance creation. Indeed, he finds pass angles that put opposition defenders on that back foot and in trouble, he breaks the lines with great ease. He is very mature for his age, at only 20 years old; he carries the team and is a master playmaker. The ball sticks to his feet and he is rarely dispossessed. As for his defaults, maybe a little more consistency in his matches but it is very normal at his age. Lorient rely heavily on him and this season he has regularly won matches for them.
DS: The French second tier to the top division is a big jump but the jump to the Premier League is probably even bigger. Can you see Maurice wanting to follow Guendouzi to the Premier League and is he good enough to make the switch?
LLT – For Guendouzi I was surprised at the time but I knew he had the ability, and his preparation with the team of France U19 was exceptional. (I was lucky to meet him after a match at that tournament.) However, for Claude Maurice, I think he also has the capabilities but personally, I believe he should first play in Ligue 1 here to gain consistency and experience. Because Matteo was really a case apart, it was obvious that he had a temperament already for the high level and when I look at him playing for Arsenal, he has the same attitudes as Lorient.
DS: Have there been any rumours or gossip in the French media about his future?
LLT – Not really and I find that pretty surprising. There have been a few links to teams in Ligue 1 and Eredivisie in Holland but nothing concrete. Though it must be said that last year, he played only a dozen games. It is really this season that he justified the faith and hope that was placed in him. However, I think this summer he will not be short of offers and even if we do not hear rumours, clubs must follow him closely.
DS: Media outlets would have us believe that Arsenal do not have a huge transfer budget for the summer so do you think Maurice would represent a reasonable gamble and how much do you think he would cost?
LLT – I think that if Lorient fail to win promotion he would fetch about £8 million but if they were promoted the price would increase but I would say to £13-14 million maximum. I think that this may be a good bet on the future but perhaps to a less high profile club first where he could confirm his talent with less pressure
DS: Do you think that fact that his ex- team mate has seen so much first team action in his first season would influence him and are him and Guendouzi close do you know?
LLT – Yes Matteo is the perfect example. After only a season in the French second division, he has found himself a regular at Arsenal the following season. It is a meteoric rise, which can of course inspire Claude Maurice. He has a lot of talent and is calm and mature, although I am not certain he has a character as strong as Matteo. In any case, he definitely has a bright future and certainly if Arsenal came calling this summer, he would surely listen to the words of Matteo. Moreover, they know each other well and have kept in touch, so if Claude Maurice were to move to North London (the right side of course), I am sure the adaptation of Matteo would help him and they could support each other.
Lucas hopes to write more on football and you can find him @FcLorient560.
Whoever we are to believe about the transfer budget available to Unai Emery this summer, what is certain is that the purchases will combine established first team additions with young potential. That is the Arsenal Way and it will not change in the near future. We cannot spend as some of our rivals do – so to unearth the gem, as we have with Guendouzi, is a huge bonus. So why not go back to fish in a pond we know well and take a chance on Alexis Claude Maurice? We hold all the cards if we were to return to Brittany and ACM could be the next Gooner off the Lorient Express!