The last time Martin Odegaard failed to start a Premier League game in the colours of Arsenal, Mikel Arteta’s side were torn limb from limb by Liverpool; directionless, leaderless and rudderless in a humiliating four-goal defeat.
There was understandable trepidation, then, as the Gunners travelled to the scene of one of 2021’s most bloody crimes on Sunday afternoon without their inspirational captain. The commanding nature of that eventual 3-0 shellacking of Brentford, then, not only proved that Arsenal can thrive without Odegaard, but that they also have a more-than capable replacement waiting in the wings.
Fabio Vieira’s full Premier League debut will, of course, be remembered for that scorching 25-yard drive early in the second half. But, against Brentford and away to FC Zurich in the Europa League, Vieira showcased the vision, the guile and the surgeon’s scalpel precision that marked him out as one of the continent’s most exciting young playmakers at Porto; helping to run the game from Odegaard’s usual inverted number eight role.
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“I think everyone who watched that game realised this kid is special,” former Gunners striker Kevin Campbell tells Highbury Squad. “It will take time to adapt. He looks weak at times. But his technique, his quality on the ball, his passing, (is) excellent.”
Arsenal’s lengthy and reportedly ongoing pursuit of Celtic ace Matt O’Riley, then, can probably be placed onto the backburner. For the time being, at least.
O’Riley, north of the border, has done most of his best work as a right-sided central midfielder, cutting inside to devastating effect onto his left boot.
The same role Odegaard has made his own at Arsenal. The same role Vieira dazzled in at Brentford. Of course, competition for places is integral at a club looking to establish themselves back amongst the elite. It’s certainly done the likes of Tottenham and Manchester United no harm this term. But Arsenal’s apparent obsession with technically-gifted left-footers aside; the £20 million fee required for O’Riley would probably be better spent elsewhere.
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The risk, of course, is that the former Fulham starlet – who first registered on Arsenal’s radar some five years ago – ends up joining another top-flight club before raising his price-tag considerably. A la Virgil van Dijk at Southampton. for instance.
“I know that Leicester showed a lot of interest in me,” the Hounslow-born Denmark U21 international tells Tipsbladet. “And I think Newcastle were there too.
“It’s great to get some recognition. It means that I’m doing well at Celtic. But as I say, Celtic is the perfect place for me right now. It’s a big club, we play in the Champions League, the fans are insanely good and the team is good.
“It’s a perfect place to be. I also think it’s a good place to be if I want to go to the World Cup with Denmark.”
Celtic’s buy-low, sell-high policy means that, when big-money offers arrive for O’Riley (and they are almost certain to), the Hoops are unlikely to stand in his way. Whether Arsenal are among his suitors when the time comes to move on, however, could depend on how Fabio Vieira builds on that outstanding start to life as Odegaard’s understudy.
Two left-footed, right-sided attacking playmakers is enough. Three, however, feels like overkill.