I was not alone in being surprised by Mikel Arteta’s team selection for the Leeds game on Sunday.
When we signed Martin Odegaard on loan I imagined he would be back-up for Emile Smith Rowe, but a back-up who would get plenty of game time because of the need to not overplay ESR.
What I did not expect was for them to line up alongside each other as they did at the weekend, especially when we had other attacking players like Pepe, Martinelli and (oh dear) Willian available.
But it worked. What’s more, the way both young men played was incredibly pleasing on the eye: fast, intelligent movement, first time passes, cheeky little moments of skill and control.
Watching them you realised you were watching Rolls Royce footballers – players who have perfect touch and control and are also half a second ahead of anyone else on the pitch in their reading of the game.
If a persistent problem for Arsenal (not just this season but going back several years) has been unpicking defences when teams ‘park the bus’, then our blonde-on-blonde twin pivot are exactly the tool needed to pick the lock.
Of course there’s a big proviso. If we commit to playing them both on a regular basis, does this mean we will lack defensive solidity and stability. On Sunday Xhaka and Ceballos did an excellent job of controlling midfield in the first half and I don’t see why that combo, or Xhaka-Partey could not give us the sound platform needed to unleash the Röwdegaard on a regular basis.
If we wanted to be really daring we could put Röwdegaard behind a front striker (Auba or Laca), with two wide attacking players as well (Saka and Pepe, for example). But that would require a defensive midfielder of incredible discipline and ability – a Gilberto Silva if you like – and I’m not sure we have that person in our ranks at the moment.
We saw against Leeds how difficult the Röwdegaard can make it for opposition defenders (with Saka playing a huge part as well, of course). The problems our attack-minded young players caused the defenders in that game meant there was more space for Aubameyang to play in as well.
ESR and Odegaard are both young and in many ways still learning their trade, but if they fulfil their potential then it would be like having Bergkamp and Ozil starting in the same team; or Fabregas and Brady. Am I getting too carried away? What do you think? How would you line up our attacking options?