Ex-Arsenal defender Martin Keown wasn’t as convinced about Martin Odegaard’s performance against Benfica as other pundits and fans were.
Speaking on BT Sport, Keown explained that he has two reservations about the Norwegian international playing in the number 10 role. Firstly, he doesn’t know whether he’ll be as effective as Emile Smith Rowe in the same position:
“The reservations I have is Smith Rowe was playing especially well in that position. Now, perhaps he [Arteta] didn’t feel he was getting enough from [Nicolas] Pepe defensively so Smith Rowe’s gone into that position. Now you’ve got Saka and Smith Rowe in wide positions. They have really good movement, tuck inside nicely, they give that space for the full-backs to get wide and they know when to press. But maybe they lose a little bit, for the time being, until Odegaard is ready to match speed. There were glimpses of really good play.”
Secondly, he is concerned that Odegaard’s teammates are not on the same wavelength in terms of feeding the ball to him when he has space:
“Here he [Odegaard] is, in acres of space [askingg for the ball], is this a status thing? Because the club has lost Ozil who was really good in that type of position who would have demanded it. This player needs to do something similar. And in that central position, if he gets it, he can be really creative. That’s just decision making. You want to get him on the ball. I think that’s why Arteta wants him in there but you’ve got to keep feeding him. And when Arsenal learn to do that it will become second nature.”
Neither of these are particularly strong criticisms, and it must be said that Odegaard was instrumental in some of the Gunners’ best attacks last night.
The 22-year-old’s defence-splitting pass allowed Cedric to set up the equaliser for Bukayo Saka, while he also provided a golden chance for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Comparisons to Mesut Ozil may be a bit premature but Odegaard’s display was certainly very promising, especially considering Arsenal’s problems with creativity before his arrival.