Mikel Arteta’s plan to get the best from Bukayo Saka as Arsenal break unwanted record vs Benfica


MØ shows shades of MÖ

After failing to make too much of an impression against Leeds on his first start, Thursday night’s Europa League tie was when Martin Odegaard really came to the Arsenal party.

The Norwegian’s easy going exterior makes him seem as though little bothers him but there is no way that he would not have been frustrated by the lack of opportunities his teammates presented him with going into the break.

There were separate occasions where Hector Bellerin and Dani Ceballos both could have found the Gunners latest signing free in the middle of the Stadio Olimpico turf, but neither took up the opportunity.

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In the second half though Odegaard showed why he should be fed the ball as often as possible.

Having fallen behind to a soft Pizzi penalty Arsenal really needed something from their new signing who was more than happy to step up.

His eye of a needle pass to Cedric was key in the build up to Bukayo Saka‘s goal, and he could have provided the match winning assist had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang provided a better finish to his second half through ball.

Martin Odegaard impressed for Arsenal against Benfica (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)

Odegaard has settled in quickly and finished the night with 3 key passes, 92% pass accuracy, 4 tackles, 5/9 ground duels won. Not a bad way to make your European debut for your new club.

Mikel Arteta has already commented on how willing the Norwegian is to step up and be counted when the going gets tough.

“I’ve been very impressed with his leadership,” he said. “He looks a little bit calm and reserved but on the pitch he’s got something about him and I’ve been really impressed with him.

“When I talk about leadership as well it’s how he talks to his teammates, how he commands, for example, the high press, and then the personality he shows.

“The opponent is close to him and he still wants the ball in the tight areas.”

The last player with the initials M.O. that Arsenal brought in from Real Madrid didn’t do to badly. In their latest investment they may have found someone who could be even better.

Missed opportunities for Arsenal

Speaking after the game it was easy to see how disappointed Mikel Arteta was with the outcome of the match.

“I think we had to leave the stadium today with much more than what we have right now,” he said. “Everything is completely open till next Thursday.

“We have some positives to take from the game because we dominated the game and we had patches of really good moments where we created some big chances.

“We weren’t ruthless enough in the opponents’ box and the disappointing thing obviously is the way we concede the goal.”

Aubameyang reacts to missing a chance against Benfica (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP) (Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images)

In his assessment of the game the Arsenal boss was almost exactly right.

They dominated the game against a poor Benfica side who offered very little other than the penalty they were gifted.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the most guilty on the night spurning three great opportunities to put the tie beyond the Gunners’ ‘hosts.’

“Well, these thing happen,” said Arteta of his captain’s profligacy in front of goal.

“He was unlucky not to score two or three tonight because in normal circumstances that would be the case.”

It was a frustrating evening for Aubameyang who simply could not get his rhythm going at the Stadio Olimpico.

It seemed as though the conditions were perfect with Benfica’s high line and 33-year-old pair of Nicolas Otamendi and Jan Vertonghen at the back.

But time and again the Gabon striker found himself offside. In fact in all Arsenal were called offside 10 times on the night – their most in any game since November 2013.

Granit Xhaka (85), David Luiz (80) and Gabriel (102) topped the passing charts, but it was another frustrating evening as the Gunners failed to get the ball forward quick enough to the front line as the absence of Thomas Partey was keenly felt.

Having broken that unwanted record Arsenal will now go into next week’s second leg in Greece knowing that the tie is still very much up for grabs. With the quality of opposition and chances created it really shouldn’t be.

Arteta’s Martinelli decision

Aubameyang’s poor finishing eventually saw him substituted and it was interesting to see who he was replaced by.

The obvious change appeared to be Alexandre Lacazette but it was instead Gabriel Martinelli who came on to the pitch.

There has long been a debate about where the Brazilian’s best position is, with some viewing him as a left winger and others seeing his future lying as a number nine.

Unai Emery seemed to fall into the latter camp and initially played him up front during his breakthrough games in the Europa League group stages last season.

The player himself seems to think differently though.

‘I like to play open and I play quite centrally, but I prefer to start wide,’ he told Brazilian YouTube channel Desimpedidos last year.

‘But my preference is always just to play… centre-half, full-back, goalkeeper, I just want to play.’

ROME, ITALY – FEBRUARY 18: Gabriel Martinelli of Arsenal during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 match between SL Benfica and Arsenal FC at Stadio Olimpico on February 18, 2021 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Most important though is the view of his current manager who seemed to point to the fact that he views him as best suited to play down the middle.

It would make sense given that he has already said Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s “natural” position is on the left, while Alexandre Lacazette, Eddie Nketiah and Folarin Balogun have recently been snubbed in the position.

There are elements to his link up play that Martinelli would definitely need to work on if he is to become Arsenal’s long term number nine, but in terms of raw energy he certainly has the ability to lead the Gunners’ press.

He is strong in the air too and not afraid to go into challenges with opposition defenders.

Most importantly he has proved can finish though and that’s what sets him apart as someone who could succeed in the position.

At this age it is probably too early to box the 19-year-old into any position, but with this latest hint, it will be interesting to see what Mikel Arteta has in store for Martinelli in the future.

Mikel Arteta reveals his plan to get the best out of Saka

Different country, same story as the Italian capital played host to the latest instalment of the extraordinary brilliance of Bukayo Saka.

But can you even begin to call it extraordinary if this level of performance is in fact becoming ordinary for the 19-year-old

Since Boxing Day, the Hale End graduate has found a new lease of life on the right and added goals to his game with a regularity that no teenager in English football can match – five in his last ten matches.

The reality remains though that he is only a teenager and Mikel Arteta admitted that he and the club will have to rally around the prospect to ensure he reaches his full potential.

Bukayo Saka (C) celebrates with Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Image: ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images)

“I think we have to protect him and keep expectations where they should be,” he said. “But I’m not gonna put a break in his development or what he can do week in week out.

“I think we have to support him, give him the best possible advice all the time and then manage his minutes so he can maintain this level.”

But this is easier said than done, and when a player is doing it as consistently as Saka is, the Gunners boss admitted its hard to leave him out at all regardless of his age.

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“It is at the moment because he’s been a real threat, he’s involved in a lot of goals all the time and the consistency of the performances makes him a starter obviously,” he said when asked about whether it was tough to balance expectations with reality.

“It’s a fine balance, but at the same time when he is 19-years-old we have to protect him.”

It’s a smart plan that Arsenal will be hoping comes to fruition, as if it does, the Gunners will have one the best players not just in England, but in the world.





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