Let’s be honest, other than a slightly less than exemplary defensive showing by Arsenal at Watford it was as fluid and exciting at times as we have seen the attacking play under Arteta. There is so much to be happy about, not least the fact that the Gunners now sit fourth, with 3, yes, 2 games in hand on the teams directly below them. However, even with Lacazette’s link play at its very best, Martinelli back in the goals, the very nature of all three goals, it was the absolutely sensational quality of the developing on pitch partnership between Saka and Odegaard that left the deepest impression with me.
Watford are not the best defensive unit, far from it, but I am not sure the best could have lived with the on-field chemistry, imagination and sheer brilliance of the interplay between the best right-sided attacking English player, (there, I have said it,) and our Norwegian playmaker, whose displays must be causing many a scratched head in Madrid. I am not the sort of fan or writer to get carried away easily but the word that kept coming to the fore of my mind on Sunday, watching the two artists combine, was ‘telepathic’.
I am sure we all appreciate that the difference between the good player and the great player is that the latter knows what they wish to do with the ball before they receive it. Most Arsenal supporters will have read Bergkamp’s autobiography, Stillness and Speed and the great man speaks about this very thing so eloquently. Hardly as surprise when the incredible Dutchman, always had the ability to see the bigger picture on the pitch.
Of course, this is why the other adage of playing with better players will improve you as an individual is also true. I recall Ray Parlour once saying that even surrounded by opposition players, he knew that Dennis would have positioned himself in the one place where it was possible for him to make a pass, and hence retain possession. I believe that Odegaard and Saka are influencing and improving each other and the more they play together they better it will be.
It was so obvious on Sunday at Vicarage Road that both instinctively knew, where the other would be and anticipated the off the ball movement the other would make. This makes for exhilarating football for us supporters to enjoy and gives the opposition defenders, at times, and impossible task. The interchange of passes, often disguised, reversed or backheeled were simply a thing of beauty and we have to pinch ourselves to think how young both players actually are and how long we might just have to drink in this blossoming relationship.
In anticipation of writing this article I took to social media to ask fellow fans, for other examples of such player chemistry in an attacking sense, with the Pires and Henry, French Connection being the first that came to me. There were may superb responses, that made for a wonderful trip down memory lane on a Monday morning. Giroud, with almost anyone, Radford and Kennedy, Walcott and van Persie, Nasri and Fabregas were some of many that struck a chord.
However, the one example that fitted best by way of a direct comparison to the implicit understanding in the partnership between Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard, was mentioned the most often and that was the special bond between Bergkamp and Freddie Ljungberg. This is a lovely parallel to draw not only in a positional sense, but also because it was after the injury to Robert Pires in 2002 that this Dutch/Swedish combo carried Arsenal to a glorious league and cup double. Twenty years on, admittedly with lesser targets in Arsenal’s sights, will it be an English/Norwegian combo that carries Arsenal, 20 years later, back to European football’s top table?
The fan excitement and in all honesty the obvious fact that both players are happy in North London, however, must be seen to be matched by club ambition. This will I am sure be demonstrated if Arsenal qualify for the Champion’s League, by a flexing of muscle in the transfer market but the club also need look at both player’s contracts. Odegaard, I am relaxed about as he is on a good salary and has a further 3 years beyond this summer, but Saka with 2 years remaining and a wage set at a level that reflected his progress in 2020 needs to have his deal addressed urgently in June.
This is the full unedited version of my Fan’s column for Sun Football yesterday
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.
Alexis and Ozil