Mesut Ozil out, Martin Odegaard in? Arsenal are increasingly confident of signing the Real Madrid midfielder on a six-month loan deal this month and there’d be plenty of sense in doing a deal, with a return to Real Sociedad having apparently been blocked.
As they look to ease their reliance on Emile Smith Rowe to be the creative fulcrum of the team in the No 10 role, Odegaard is seen as a player who can help ease the burden on the academy graduate and avoid any potential burnout.
While Odegaard would come to the Emirates expecting game time, certainly far more than he’s getting in Madrid having played just five minutes since December 5, it would not mean Smith Rowe dropping out of the starting eleven altogether.
The 20-year-old Croydon-born playmaker has grown into an important player for Mikel Arteta and the manager is confident he has a huge future ahead of him in north London.
But while a move to the Premier League for Odegaard would not hinder Smith Rowe, rather lessen the load on him as the Gunners chase vitally important European qualification, it may not be the best news for two other Arsenal players.
One of those is Joe Willock, who reports earlier this month claimed Arsenal were willing to include in a cash-plus-player deal for Emiliano Buendia to help meet Norwich’s £40million asking price.
The 21-year-old has been excellent for Arsenal in the Europa League this season with three goals and three assists in five games and not just that but some truly stand-out performances.
But he has made only two Premier League starts this season, both of which came in a No 10 role in the draw at Leeds and the defeat at home to Wolves.
The 21-year-old can also play in a central midfield role but after 19 league games has been an unused substitute nine times and has missed out on the squad altogether on another four occasions.
With Thomas Partey now back to full fitness and Granit Xhaka his regular central midfield partner, Willock’s opportunities for minutes in midfield are limited, with Mohamed Elneny and Dani Ceballos both also above him in the pecking order it seems.
Add in Odegaard, on top of Smith Rowe’s form in the central attacking midfield role, and it is tricky to see where Willock will get the minutes he needs to continue developing.
While he started four of six group games in Europe, Arteta may choose to field line-ups closer to that of his strongest Premier League teams when it comes to the knockout rounds, which would spell bad news for Willock.
That would mean Odegaard and Smith Rowe both featuring regularly as Arsenal look to try and win a competition they know could give them a route into next season’s Champions League, particularly given the alternative route via the league looks to have already been shut off.
And if it’s true that Arsenal are willing to give up Willock, or Reiss Nelson, for Buendia then the Hale End product has a battle on his hands to convince Arteta he has a long-term place at the club already even before Odegaard’s arrival.
The other most likely casualty of Odegaard’s temporary switch to north London would be Willian, who has fallen out of favour with Bukayo Saka starring on the right wing and Alexandre Lacazette starting up top, forcing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang back to the left after a run of games playing as the side’s No 9.
Willian has Saka and Nicolas Pepe for competition on the right flank while Aubameyang is a certain starter on the left, where Saka can also play and Gabriel Martinelli is another popular pick.
The Brazilian’s poor performances since his free summer switch from Chelsea mean he simply does not currently deserve to play over any of those players.
Willian’s last start came against Newcastle in the FA Cup where he played as a No 10 with Reiss Nelson on one side of him and Pepe the other.
The 32-year-old disappointed again against the Magpies and only got 11 minutes versus the same opponents in the league on Monday, by which time the scoreline was 3-0 and the game was long over as a contest.
The attacker can play centrally but with Odegaard and Smith Rowe the main picks there and Willock a back-up, Willian looks likely to see his game-time further suffer, as there are better and more effective options in all of the positions he can play.
Arsenal fans are likely to be nonplussed by Odegaard’s arrival if it affects Willian’s minutes given his sparing contributions but Willock has shown plenty of promise and perhaps deserves more opportunities to prove himself, which he might not get if the Real Madrid man lands in the English capital in the coming couple of weeks.
It will be interesting to see what happens next with the England youth international.