Smith-Rowe is Superior to Odegaard
It has to be said now. Smith-Rowe is a superior playmaking talent to Martin Odeegard. Playmaking to the casual fan is often just about brilliantly timed and weighted passes. But that is not all to playmaking. Martin Odeegard has a very good pass in him, but what else?
Playmaking in modern football requires comfort evading opposition pressure as a fundamental. Evading this pressure can come from having very good dribbling skills or movement. Neither Smith-Rowe or Odegaard are great dribblers but Smith-Rowe moves like water, going in and out and around and behind and ahead. He does not stick to one area of the pitch unlike Odegaard who only likes playing in the right half-space. This means it becomes effectively impossible to man-mark Smith-Rowe out of a game. He will not stay in one position. He will not always follow the ball. He will sometimes fill in for Bellerin at rightback while Bellerin carries the ball forward. He understands positional play and is very comfortable with the ball on every side of the pitch. Smith-Rowe provides momentary overloads where he thinks it is needed and occupies spaces that have been left behind.
Another way of evading pressure is speed of thought and execution. Odegaard is a methodical thinker on the pitch. He delays and dallies and wonders. Against top opposition, this can be bad for the speed of attacks and can give them a chance to settle down and apply pressure. Smith-Rowe is completely different mentally. Before he came in against Chelsea, Arsenal had one of the statistics that showed which team is playing poor positional football: slow movement of the ball up the pitch. In a very tactical world where wingers defend, if you can’t move quickly up the pitch and spring a good attack, it becomes difficult to beat even small teams. A good team at positional football are capable of moving the ball with speed up the pitch when they want to. Guardiola’s City and Sarri’s Napoli are good examples. They are also good at keeping and recycling when they want to. Our attacks were slow because our players were not very good at positional play and were mentally fragile. Smith-Rowe changed all that.
Smith-Rowe does not play about with the ball. He knows what to do before he receives it. He is fluid, quick and intense. Wenger’s Arsenal featured a lot of fluid one-touch passing and movement into space. We went past defensive structures with superb ease. This is why we have looked so much more fluid with Smith-Rowe as our playmaker. He is a Wenger player, capable of combining at any angle and running into space. Have you ever seen Odegaard run into space?
Odegaard is a high volume playmaker. Someone who requires so much of the ball to produce something remarkable. No modern, successful 10 is like that. Not David Silva, not De Bruyne, not Eriksen, not Fernandes, not Mesut Ozil. This is why the Ozil comparisons are baffling. Ozil also had the crazy good passing but he was far more fluid and capable from every area of the pitch than Odeegard. Ozil dropped and helped create overloads in the first and second phase. Ozil moved everywhere on the left and right. He was fantastic with his passing from any angle. He was fast mentally, already knowing what to do everytime he received the ball. He didn’t need twenty million touches of the ball to produce a good play. He moved into space.
That Odegaard has the same languid body and a similar weight of passing does not mean he is the next Ozil. He is not comfortable across the pitch. He is too stiff and static. He requires too much time and too many touches. He does not run into space, always preferring to stay behind the ball. That is not Ozil.
Smith-Rowe is at the moment a more modern playmaker. He does not try fancy things with the ball except in the final third, keeping it simple and fast. That means we do not lose the ball when he has it. He is not a ball hogger and will score more goals from running into space. Physically, he is going to become explosive and more unstoppable in the coming years. If you watch him closely, you see the same long horse strides as Kevin De Bruyne. Odegaard is way off and inferior. If we are going to purchase him, he is best used as an 8 rather than a 10, given his defensive ethics. He is a coaching project and can be improved a lot. Until then, Smith-Rowe should regain his role as our playmaker.