The 22-year-old was brought in to provide the Gunners with some additional creativity and lighten the load currently being carried by Emile Smith Rowe. The Englishman has appeared just nine times in the Premier League for the Gunners this season, with his first coming in the tide-turning Boxing Day victory over Chelsea.
He made an immediate impact in that fixture, registering the first of his three assists in the top flight this season and played a key role in Arsenal’s mini-revival prior to the defeat at Wolves. However, he’s struggled for fitness this season and in recent weeks, has looked somewhat fatigued.
With Odegaard set to return to Real Madrid in just a few months’ time, if Arteta has doubts over whether he is ready to start at this stage you’d have to ask the question: what was the point in signing him?
The player has arrived in London with a point to prove having been given very little opportunity to show his worth in Madrid, and although he squandered a good opportunity for the Gunners in the second half at Villa Park, he looked as motivated and determined as anybody in an Arsenal shirt.
In the case of Smith Rowe, it’s not just about protecting him physically given his patchy injury record; mentally, you could argue that to place so much pressure on him – demanding he be the team’s main creative force – may start to have a negative impact on his displays.
In Odegaard, Arsenal have a more experienced alternative who is equally, if not more talented and given he’ll only be at the club until the end of the season. Why wait to use him?
The trip to Villa last weekend was the first time Smith Rowe’s level was noticeably lower due to what we can only assume was fatigue. He’s clearly struggling for full fitness and given we know he’s played in games recently despite not always being 100% fit, he could certainly do with a breather.
The loanee was brought in to provide the Arsenal boss with this very luxury – the ability to freshen things up and call upon another creator to take away some of the burden from the youngster.
Odegaard’s ability to play on the flanks as well as through the centre means he can operate, if the manager wishes, in a very similar way to Smith Rowe who often takes up position in the wide areas and creates options and angles for the wingers.
Taking all of the above into consideration, this weekend feels like as good a time as any for Martin Odegaard to be handed his first start for the Gunners.