Getting the best out of Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe is a problem that has dated back to last season for Arsenal, but Mikel Arteta might have finally found a solution
Paul Merson has been made to eat his words as Mikel Arteta was able to effectively fit Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe into the same team in Arsenal’s win over Burnley.
The Norwegian’s stunning free-kick secured an impressive victory for the north London club at Turf Moor.
But what was even more pleasing for Arsenal supporters is that they managed to seal the three points with Odegaard and Smith Rowe on the same pitch.
Getting the best out of both of them is a problem that has dated back to last season when Odegaard was on loan from Real Madrid as he occupied the no.10 position, pushing Smith Rowe out wide.
The general consensus is that both players are at their best in central areas.
Smith Rowe has been left on the bench in recent weeks, as a result, with Odegaard preferred in behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as Arteta looked to find a way for them to co-exist in the same side.
But he might have found a solution as the Gunners boss took the gamble to play Odegaard in a deeper role with Smith Rowe further ahead of him.
Odegaard was comfortable dictating play further back, but was still given the freedom to get forward and have an impact at the top end of the pitch.
Thomas Partey’s presence at the base of the midfield was vital in allowing Odegaard to do so and the majority of Arsenal’s promising play stemmed from the former Real Madrid man.
This set-up also allowed Smith Rowe to get on the ball a lot more centrally, instead of being isolated out wide, which happened regularly last term.
It’s early days yet and Arteta is still experimenting, but this is arguably the best Arsenal have looked with both players on the same pitch. And the Spaniard knows he can’t afford to have a player of Smith Rowe’s quality on the bench.
It’s a small sample size, but it has debunked the theory that it’s impossible for the two to play well together in the same team, it is just a work in progress to iron out some teething issues.
Paul Merson held this view at the start of the season as he hit out at the club’s signing of Odegaard and how he believed Smith Rowe would “suffer” from his arrival.
He told the Daily Star: “What sort of message does signing Odegaard send to Emile Smith Rowe?”
“I can see why he held out signing a new contract. When Odegaard came on loan he ended up playing out on the wing. But Emile Smith Rowe is a No 10. He’s the future at Arsenal. He came through the ranks and he makes things happen.
“He is the one who is going to suffer most from them buying Odegaard. What really is the difference between them anyway? I think they are too similar. But I know who’s not getting picked if it starts going wrong and it won’t be the £30m new signing…
“I know they both played in the same team last season but it was a problem. Smith Rowe didn’t look comfortable on the wing. It’s like making a centre-back play at right-back. However hard you try, sooner or later you’re going to get dropped.”