In the aftermath of a fabulous win over our North London rivals, the role and performance of Martin Odegaard is rightly receiving high praise, not just from us fans but from his ‘current’ manager, Mikel Arteta.
However, I am keen to highlight how the Norwegian’s place in the team is positively influencing others, notably Emile Smith Rowe. Many of us, myself included, wondered at the wisdom of shunting the ‘Croydon de Bruyne’ to the left to accommodate the new arrival, particularly given how well he had been playing centrally in the post-Christmas revival. Indeed, I ran a Twitter poll leading up to Sunday’s Derby asking who should start centrally, Smith Rowe or Odegaard and 54% wanted the young Englishman.
I guess that us why Arteta is paid the big bucks, as he has insisted from day one that he thought the two creative players could work in the same team. The reason why he is correct when you analyse it is quite simple, because in Smith Rowe, Odegaard and Saka he has three like minded players, all of whom move the ball quickly, all of whom have creativity and crucially all of whom combine the latter with a work ethic.
I think the days of Aubameyang being used in the left are over and I think, however talented he might be Pepe, needs to adapt or be content to be an impact substitute. Any lingering concerns we might have had about lack of natural width using Saka and Smith Rowe as wide players in a three must now be pushed aside, because full backs will be encouraged and allowed to space to overlap and attack the space. The Interchange and positive impact of the Smith Rowe, Tierney partnership was there for all to see on Sunday and in the Scot, we have the best left back in the division in my view.
The intelligent use of Tierney and his ability to reach the by-line and cutback will only improve. Smith Rowe coming in field having found his partner or indeed leaving space for Xhaka to find him, allows the youngster to be on the edge of the back or arriving to get on the end of the cut-back and I am sure he will start adding more goals. We have seen Saka do the same from the left. Someone whose football opinion I respect, observed on Sunday that Smith-Rowe was the closest player we have had to Samir Nasri in his pomp at Arsenal.
This comparison struck me on so many levels. Smith Rowe has the same close control, ability to beat a man, superb work ethic, a vicious shot, along with excellent vision and a penchant for an intricate one, two in an around the penalty area. However, the truly interesting part, is that Nasri, like Smith Rowe now and like Ljungberg, Rosicky, Hleb and Arshavin before them both, initially and perhaps always saw themselves as central attacking midfielders. Perhaps Arteta, like Wenger post Invincibles, wants a team where there the behind the striker are simply talented, skillful ballers, who all want to make things happen, wherever they are nominally positioned. As long as they work hard and know their duties and positions without the ball, fluidity, flexibility, and interchange, will be encouraged in possession.
Perhaps the reason why such tactics never quite worked for Wenger with as much consistency as we might have liked, was that he never replaced Gilberto, or even a young Flamini entirely and found a genuinely disciplined midfield platform. It will remain to be seen what the pivot is next season but Partey and Xhaka is working well at present and their discipline will allow the continued attacking width from Tierney beyond Smith Rowe and Cedric/Bellerin beyond Saka.
To finish the article and the Smith Rowe comparison with Samir Nasri I just wanted to look at the French playmaker’s goals impact mostly from wide in his three seasons. Nasri was only a year older than Smith Rowe when he arrived at Arsenal and in three seasons, with Fabregas, in the central creative role, he ostensibly wanted, he scored 18 Premier League goals in 75 appearances. In his last season he scored 1O in the league playing primarily where Arteta currently sees Smith Rowe. I am sure in a team that has been lacking in goals from midfield we would love to see him chip in with Saka and Odegaard and I have little doubt he will.
This is the full unedited version of yesterday’s Sun Football Fan’s View
Passionate fifty-something Arsenal supporter who has been making the journey to N5 regularly since the early 1980s – although his first game was in 1976. Always passionate when talking about The Arsenal, Dave decided to send a guest blog to Gunnersphere in the summer of 2011 and has not stopped writing about the Gunners since.
He set up his own site – 1 Nil Down 2 One Up – in February 2012, which he moved on in 2016 to concentrate on freelance writing and building Gunners Town, which he launched with Paul in 2014.
The objective of GT was to be new and fresh and to give a platform for likeminded passionate Arsenal fans wishing to write about their team. Dave still of course, writes for the site himself and advises the ever-changing writing crew.