The Norwegian hasn’t started with Arteta yet (Image: Getty Images).
Martin Odegaard has played just 32 minutes as a substitute for Arsenal since being loaned out by Real Madrid in January, and Mikel Arteta must find the best way to use the midfielder.
The Gunners have shown their foresight in bringing in the 22-year-old, who has struggled for game time at the Bernabeu this season under Zinedine Zidane.
Arteta struggled to be creative for much of the season, until academy star Emile Smith Rowe brought his previously lethargic teammates to the fore in a 3-1 win over Chelsea in December.
Odegaard missed a golden opportunity against Villa (Photo: Get Images)
Arsenal topped the league table in December and January after five wins from six Premier League games, but two defeats against Wolves and Aston Villa brought them back down to earth and moved them up to 11th place.
After all, Smith Rowe is only 20 years old and can’t carry the burden of being his team’s main creative influence, so playmaker Odegaard will have to step in.
While Smith Rowe is due for a rest and Nicolas Pepe might outplay captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mikel Arteta could be here at Arsenal ahead of his January loan spell.
Bernd Leno will return to the starting line-up after he made a hole in his box in the 2-1 loss to Wolves, which earned him a red card and a one-match suspension.
But David Luiz might not go straight to the sidelines like his teammate. The central defender received a controversial red card against the team of Nuno Espirito Santo. This is his third dismissal since signing with Arsenal in the summer of 2019.
The Brazilian missed a penalty kick and was given a marching order for inadvertently dropping Willian Jose in the box, despite minimal contact. Arsenal’s subsequent appeal was quickly rejected by the FA.
Gabriel has replaced his compatriot, who has often made mistakes, in the starting eleven and looks set to continue alongside Rob Holding in the centre.
Kieran Tierney was in good form on the left, while Hector Bellerin kept his usual place on the right for most of the season, ahead of substitute Cedric.
Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey have built a strong partnership in midfield and Arteta will be hoping that the £45m summer contract with Partey is reinstated as soon as possible, after he suffered another injury in the defeat to Villa last weekend.
Pepe was a bright spot on the left wing (Photo: Getty Images)
The most obvious change for Odegaard would be a direct swap for Smith Rowe at No10, which the Norwegian international has become accustomed to in recent seasons.
The midfielder had one of the best moments of Arsenal’s game against Villa when he slid over the bar, but more importantly he was in the right place on the pitch and saw the ball from close range in a 25-minute cameo.
Odegaard’s precise dribbling and accurate passing make him the ideal replacement for Smith Rowe, whose only shortcoming is that he has yet to forge a strong bond with his teammates.
On the wings, the powerful Saka has been one of Arsenal’s most consistent players this season, while Pepe, who has commanded a record £72million, has been passed over several times since his move to the left wing.
Alexandre Lacazette should continue to play as a striker, as he’s been in the mood to score again lately and is the only number 9 in the club who can play with his back to goal and finish effectively.
It’s not just Smith Rowe on the inside and Odegaard on the outside, as Arteta had previously insisted they could be together.
When asked if the Norwegian was competing for first place with Smith Rowe before the defeat against the Wolves, Arteta replied : They can play together. Good players can play together.
If Arteta wants to keep their 4-2-3-1 system and have the duo play together, one option could be to use Odegaard as a right winger.
The Real Madrid veteran played that role early in his career, most recently on loan to Eredivisie club Vitesse for the 2018/19 season, and is more than capable of succeeding in that role.
Like Saka, Odegaard is also left-footed, one of the factors Arteta clearly keeps in mind when choosing who to play on the right wing, and perhaps that’s why Reis Nelson’s right foot isn’t such a household name.
The switch would have meant Saka would have to move to the left and Pepe would have to sit on the bench, something Arteta would be reluctant to do given his rising form.
At Manchester City, Arteta learned the game from one of its most brilliant minds and innovators, Pep Guardiola.
Guardiola spent years developing his 4-3-3 system at Barcelona. Since joining Etihad in 2016, he has had similar success at City, winning two league titles.
He would arrive at Arsenal in December 2019. Arteta will adopt a similar attacking formation, but strengthening the gap in defence left by Unai Emery was a priority, and the squad has since fluctuated between 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-3 systems.
If the Gunners boss switches to a three-man midfield, he will have a strong candidate for one of Odegaard’s number 8 roles.
The Norwegian plays the same role as David Silva at City: He pulls the strings from midfield, entering the penalty area and directing the pressing from the center.
Thomas Partee, with his ability to get on and off the pitch, could play a boxing role alongside Odegaard, while Xhaka provides the four backs.
Odegaard is a versatile option needed for the heavy lifting of Gunner matches.
After this weekend’s game against Leeds, Arteta awaits a Europa League match in the Round of 32. Game on Benfica. In between is a home game against City before we go to frontrunner Leicester.
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