To start today, I highly recommend the latest tactics column from Lewis – in which he looks back at the 2-1 win in the North London derby. In particular he focuses on the job done by Martin Odegaard. Obviously the goal was really important, but his pressing work played a big part in helping us control the game for as long as we did.
It’s clear that the Norwegian has impressed Mikel Arteta very quickly, the manager was full of praise for him afterwards, saying:
He’s got a real stamina and he’s so talented, but his work-rate is incredible. Not only that, he’s intelligent. The timing of his runs, when he presses, his body shape. I’m really impressed and he had an incredible performance today. He’s giving us something different and it’s making us better.
His goal was his second in what was a huge week for the club, following up on the screamer he scored against Olympiacos in Athens. That it came after a poor miss early in the game was notable for me. He didn’t get hung up on it, and played like someone determined to make up for that miss.
Technically, it’s easy to see the quality he has on the ball. Against Olympiacos his pass completion was 91%, producing 4 key passes during the game; against Sp*rs it was 97% with 2 key passes. To dovetail with those though, he won 2 of 2 tackles in Athens (Kieran Tierney led the team with 3) and made 2 interceptions, while on Sunday he won 2 of 3 tackles, 1 interception, 1 clearance, and led the team for ‘pressures’ with 28 (this is when applying pressure to an opponent in possession).
It’s easy to see why Arteta likes him so much. A really good technician who combines that ability with hard work – and I imagine that he was carrying out the manager’s instructions to the letter. His deployment as the 10 gives him licence to roam, but his tendency to drift right a bit means he was tasked with preventing Sergio Reguilon being as effective as he has been of late. It worked.
He has quickly become an integral part of the team, and the conversation now turns to whether or not we can make this deal permanent. I know he’s only been with us a few weeks, but I’m ready to take the plunge. I’d be somewhat gutted if we couldn’t make it happen. That said, it’s a complicated one for all kinds of reasons. Our finances; the prospect of no Europe next season and how that might impact our spending power; what the player wants to do; what Real Madrid want to do; and the most obvious one in that the better he plays for us the more they’ll want for him, or the more they’ll want to keep him for themselves.
The one advantage we have is that he’s with us now. He seems to be enjoying himself, he’s integrated really quickly, and we can ‘sell’ him on the project and how important he could be for this club if he was inclined to join permanently. It’s clear that the manager has wanted a player of this kind, our targetting of Houssem Aouar last summer was evidence of that, and for me Odegaard just fits. He already feels like an Arsenal player to me, and it’s just a shame that he hasn’t been able to feel the love and build a relationship with the fans inside the stadium.
There have been criticisms of some of the deals we’ve done in recent times, but credit where it’s due, Edu and Arteta pulled off a really smart piece of January business in grabbing Odegaard on loan. It’s very rare to get a player of this quality on loan midway through a season, so fair play for that. They may have be super-super-smart to make a summer transfer happen, and if it’s at all achievable it’s probably going to need some help from on high. Bottom line: if the owners are genuinely ambitious and want us to get back to anywhere close to the top, this is the kind of deal they are going to have to facilitate, because these are the kind of players we need.
A quick sidebar on this is the fact that when he arrived, we wondered if it might be an either/or situation with Emile Smith Rowe, and it turns out the two are anything but. The fact that the 20 year old was brought straight back into the side after an injury for a North London derby tells you a lot about where he stands with Arteta too. He had more experienced options, but he went with Smith Rowe, and was handsomely rewarded with a brilliant performance on the left.
He is such a clever footballer already, he must be a dream to play with because wherever he is, he gets it. His combination play and movement is exceptional, and given his relative inexperience it’s so exciting to think about his potential. I remember Arsene Wenger often used young players in wide positions as he brought them into the team, and perhaps there’s a little of that going on with Smith Rowe right now. However, I think you can play him out there and get the best out of him as easily as you could play him more centrally and see the same.
If the idea of not signing Odegaard permanently is something of a cloud, Smith Rowe is a very sizeable silver lining though. They’re different players in many ways, but if next season he’s playing where the Norwegian is being deployed now, his rapid development won’t leave us with a massive hole to fix. I’d love to see both of them though. That trio of Smith Rowe, Odegaard, and Saka behind a striker is tantalising, I don’t think we’ve seen anything close to what they could produce, and as Mikel Arteta thinks about how his team wants to play, he must be desperate for that to become a permanent reality. Let’s see.
Right, I’ll leave it there for now. If you haven’t already had a chance to listen, the post-derby Arsecast Extra is below. Enjoy.
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