I recently wrote a speculative piece on Lorient’s exciting talent, Alexis Claude Maurice. I pondered whether the existing close connection between Arsenal and Les Merlus, as well as Guendouzi’s friendships with his ex-team mates might encourage another surprising swoop into Ligue 2. From a young player’s perspective, watch their ex comrade be given so much opportunity to grow and flourish, would be an encouragement.
There are whispers that my guesswork may not be too far off the mark and that it is not just Claude Maurice on Arsenal’s scouting radar in Brittany. Much may depend on whether Lorient can add to their run of 5 straight wins, force their way into the two automatic promotion positions, and avoid the lottery of the play-offs. At present Brest and Metz ate clear of Lorient and in equally good form but even if the young stars from Brittany’s rich breeding ground do secure promotion in May, the lure of joining Guendouzi might prove too much for player and club to resist.
Therefore, who do I think, aside from Claude Maurice, might be under Emery and Arsenal’s watchful eye. Certainly, I suspect Les Merlus other exciting creative talent, Julien Ponceau, rumoured to be interesting Barcelona might be an attractive option but more likely might be the 20 year old right back Houboulang Mendes, who Lorient themselves spotted only last season in the French third tier, playing for Stade Laval. Since arriving last summer he has made the right back berth his own playing virtually every match, barring injury.
So once again, I am reaching out to budding footballer writer and Lorient supporter, Lucas Le Texier, (@FCLorient560) as it is better to seek insight from one who watches the player week in week out. Let us consider Mendes first as most Arsenal fans will be interested and keen for the club to enlist specialist cover for Hector Bellerin.
DS – So Lucas, it seems Mendes has made the step up to Lorient’s level exceptionally well and made the shirt is own this season. What would you say are his main strengths and indeed his weaknesses?
LT- Yes since his arrival this summer he has progressed enormously, he played in Laval in the Third Division before. His strengths are that he is tall, fast and he joins the attack well. However, technically there is certainly room for improvement. Early in the early in the season, I found him quite awkward but he has progressed.
DS – I note that he has not been capped at any youth level by France or indeed through his parentage for Guinea. Does this suggest he does not have the quality as other young Lorient players, like Ponceau and Claude Maurice have been?
LT -It is a different for Mendes as a serious ligament at Laval had slowed his progress and also he had been utilised in central defence. He has more potential at right back and this transition is quite recent for him. However, yes I think it is still less naturally talented than the two exciting teammates but with hard work, he can progress.
DS – Arsenal fans have not taken to Lichtsteiner, as an understudy to Bellerin and do not see Maitland-Niles as his long-term successor, so could Houboulang Mendes be perfect player to groom as the Spaniard’s ultimate replacement?
LT – For now, it seems complicated because it has recently recovered from his cruciate ligament injury, which probably slowed his progression. Perhaps in the future, if he develops quickly but I think that in the short term no, he still needs more experience.
DS – To succeed as a right back at Arsenal he would need to be comfortable on the ball and be able to support the attack as well as defend. It is the role of the modern fullback. Does he have what it takes to step up, given that initially, at least he might be asked to play lesser games and cup competitions?
LT – Offensively he definitely knows what to do and he is quick and even a good dribbler. I would be more concerned, at this stage, about his ability to hold the ball and how comfortable he would be playing out of defence. Could he adapt swiftly to Emery’s philosophy on this? I am not so sure in the short-term.
DS – Mendes would have arrived at Lorient as Guendouzi was departing so he would not have a close connection to an ex-colleague. Do you feel he might need to play Ligue 1 before making the move to the Premier League?
LT -Yes, he has only been 6 months as a proper professional and was injured for 6 months as well. He is far less mature than Matteo who had an incredible confidence and ease on the field at the same age.
It sounds like Houboulang Mendes might be one for the future and if Arsenal were to buy it could be a buy and loan back situation. He sounds a raw talent with great potential who needs another season, ideally at a higher level than Ligue 2 before making the jump.
Thanks again Lucas and he and I will be back to look closely at Julien Ponceau shortly.