Another satisfying afternoon’s work for Arteta’s slimmed down, tightknit unit against Brentford. The 2-1 score line was scant justice for an utterly dominant and controlled display, and but for a myopic referee and the lack of a clinical striker it could and should have been more. Nevertheless, it was sweet revenge for the Bee’s opening day win over a depleted Gunners team.
As I walked away from a windswept Emirates, despite the continued joy that the headline-making Saka and Smith-Rowe imbue, it was the performance of Martin Odegaard that left the lingering satisfaction. The Norwegian could use his right foot more often and he certainly could shoot rather than pass (you known which situation I mean,) but ultimately it was Odegaard that set the tone on Saturday afternoon.
Every top side, often littered with amazing players, will still have one individual that sets the tempo and rhythm of their team. They may not always be the team’s superstar but when they are on the top of their game, they will make the stars shine. In all honesty, despite often forgotten, Arteta himself for his first three seasons as a Gunner, was our tempo-setter. So, the Spaniard will understand the need to have at least one player who will always look to retain momentum in possession.
For too long, and this is not doing this individual any disservice, that player for Arsenal has been Granit Xhaka. The Swiss is a magnificent passer of a football but even when at his best, the tempo will not be a fast as is required to threaten the best. Even the greatest, as we saw with Man City at the weekend, when their tempo-setters like Gundogan and de Bruyne are at 80%, can suffer.
Right now, Odegaard is Arteta’s tempo-setter and is approaching his best when it comes to neat, swift passing and interchanges. His reverse passes, often cleverly disguised, are a joy to behold and frequently wrong foot opposition defences. His on-pitch relationship with Saka is bordering on telepathic at times, and his ball retention is invaluable. It was why I was stunned that Arteta took his Norwegian playmaker off, when 1-0 up away at Wolves, when retaining possession of the football was everything.
Odegaard is not a conventional ‘10’ frequently on the right, interlinking and exchanging space and the ball with Saka, but in Arsenal’s set up this is perfect, particularly when Smith Rowe, not a conventional winger, can drift in field. I guess this is why I am so keen for Arteta to try Martinelli as a striker again, to see if it can work with ESR, Odegaard and Saka behind the Brazilian. For this to work, perhaps our blond Viking needs to add more assists and goals, but I do think his lack of assist numbers is far from indicative of his value to our creativity.
His critics, and these lessen week-on-week, will point to these stats, but for me, those will soon follow if he maintains his current levels. Right now, Odegaard’s value, and just watch his teammates’ appreciation of him, is that he is making those around him better players, and there is no bigger compliment than that. Arteta himself allowed Ramsey to flourish, and our current Number 8 is elevating the levels of his younger colleagues.
The word I used in my post-match tweet about what Odegaard gives the team is fluidity – he keeps us fluid! He has a picture in his mind, more often than not, of how he wishes to use the ball on receipt, which the best players do. However, if there are no obvious options, he will seldom pass aimlessly or play a percentage pass. He will keep the ball himself, twist and turn, until a pass to ensure Arsenal stay on the front foot becomes available to him. A huge compliment to pay him, in these attributes, would be to say he is ‘Santiesque’.
When exchanging messages with a friend after the match, that person described Odegaard as Arsenal’s de facto Captain, which sums it all up to be honest. For so long Arsenal in the latter Wenger and Emery eras were devoid of obvious leaders. Arteta is building a squad which has several and right now our Norwegian baller is certainly one of them.
This article first appeared in my Sun Fan Football column, and is republished here with permission.
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.