For Arsenal, Emile Smith Rowe has undoubtedly been the saviour of the season.
Since his arrival to the Gunners’ Premier League starting lineup, Arsenal have been fantastic domestically. He has led them to four wins and a draw in the last five games, offering up three assists and transforming their season.
The 20-year-old has given Arsenal the sort of creativity they were hoping to find by spending big in the January transfer market, and he’s turned the Gunners back into a genuine threat.
Real Madrid playmaker Martin Odegaard is close to sealing a six-month loan switch to the Emirates Stadium, with Arsenal stressing the need to bring someone in to rotate with Smith Rowe and steer them through to the end of the season.
On one hand, that’s absolutely right. Relying so heavily on a 20-year-old with seven Premier League appearances to his name is a recipe for disaster. Arsenal need someone to help shoulder the burden, 100%.
However, that replacement probably shouldn’t be someone who is coming to the Emirates to take most of Smith Rowe’s minutes.
Smith Rowe needs regular game time if he is ever going to blossom into the kind of player Arsenal feel like they can rely on. He doesn’t need to play 38 games and 90 minutes every week, but he needs to be playing more often than not.
Unfortunately, you have to say that same thing about Odegaard as well.
The 22-year-old former wonderkid has found his career at somewhat of a crossroads. Despite an impressive loan spell with Real Sociedad last season, he’s not yet at the level he needs to be to star for Real.
Zinedine Zidane handed Odegaard a grand total of 367 minutes this season – five starts and four substitute appearances – forcing the Norwegian to head out on loan to try and find more minutes.
He’s chosen Arsenal, with manager Mikel Arteta understood to have personally convinced Odegaard to pick the Emirates as the perfect spot for his development. That probably means Arteta has promised him minutes.
Odegaard will rock up to Arsenal expecting to be a regular starter, but the problem is that Smith Rowe currently demands – and deserves – the same. There’s only one No. 10 spot, just ask Mesut Ozil.
For Arteta, there needs to be a delicate balancing of the situation, but there’s a real possibility of nobody winning. If Smith Rowe plays too much, Odegaard doesn’t play enough. If they play 50:50, both will be lacking.
To have two wonderkids fighting for one spot can be a recipe for disaster. We’ve seen plenty of players choose to walk away from their clubs because of a lack of confidence in their development path – Tariq Lamptey leaving Chelsea for Brighton is a recent example.
Fortunately for Arsenal, Odegaard is only there on loan. Even if Smith Rowe doesn’t play enough this year, he’ll be the last man standing in 2021/22. There shouldn’t be any long-term issue on that front.
However, for the remainder of this season, figuring out how to balance Smith Rowe and Odegaard could be a real problem.