Mikel Arteta will hope Martin Odegaard arrival bolsters Arsenal strength in depth

Simon Collings
·3-min read
 (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
(Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

If Saturday’s defeat to Southampton taught Mikel Arteta anything, it was that the players at Arsenal knocking on his door to be in the first team aren’t doing so loudly enough.

The FA Cup fourth round tie at St. Mary’s provided the likes of Nicolas Pepe and Willian with a chance to show why they should be playing in the Premier League, but they did not take the opportunity.

They looked short of confidence, perhaps partly because they are not playing in the games they wanted. Indeed, you can hardly imagine when Pepe and Willian joined Arsenal they envisaged themselves being part of the club’s cup team.

There were others too who did not take their chance at the weekend and it is why Arteta should not have much difficulty picking his side tonight when Arsenal return to Southampton, this time to take them on in the Premier League.

The Spaniard made seven changes for Saturday’s FA Cup tie and you can expect he will make a similar number tonight as he recalls the likes of Bukayo Saka, Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey.

The first-team regulars have, in recent weeks, spearheaded Arsenal’s revival under Arteta, who has been able to steady the ship by making minimal changes to his team.

He has largely picked the same group of players since defeating Chelsea on Boxing Day but, as the season gathers pace, Arteta needs the rest of his squad to step up and apply pressure to those ahead of them.

The signing of Martin Odegaard should hopefully do that, with the attacking midfielder arriving from Real Madrid with a point to prove.

Having made just seven league appearances this season, the 22-year-old is hungry for action and he won’t have joined Arsenal to simply make up the numbers.

That can only be a good thing for Arsenal, particularly given that Odegaard will be fighting to come in and play as the team’s No10.

Currently, Emile Smith Rowe occupies that position and such is his importance that he was completely rested at the weekend.

That says a lot about the 20-year-old’s rise, but also about Arsenal’s current state. Smith Rowe had not played a Premier League game for a year before he was thrust into the team against Chelsea on Boxing - and now he’s undroppable.

The challenge for Arteta is to create an environment where players are being pushed for their position in the side. Odegaard should do that to Smith Rowe, who won’t have lost any sleep after Willian came in for him at the weekend and struggled to create when handed the chance to play as a No10.

Odegaard is most certainly only a start, and a short-term fix given he has signed on loan, but it should signal the next stage of Arteta’s rebuild.

This Arsenal squad is clearly a work in progress - as shown by the major surgery that is occurring during the current transfer window - but a key task going forward is adding depth to it.

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