Martin Odegaard and Kai Havertz as a duo of No 10s is different… and devastating

In modern football, you don’t really get classic strike partnerships any more. Few teams at the highest level play 4-4-2, or any other formation that features two out-and-out strikers.

Today, attacking is about pushing multiple players into attack, surprising the opposition with a variety of threats. Arsenal are the best example of that. Eight sides in the Premier League this season have a single player on 15 or more goals. Arsenal are not among them, but Mikel Arteta’s team have still scored more goals than any other side.

What Arsenal showed during their 5-0 thrashing of Chelsea last night could be considered something of a modern equivalent of a strike partnership. The difference, of course, was that whereas teams once fielded two No 9s together, or a No 9 combined with a No 10, Arsenal are essentially playing two No 10s in tandem. Kai Havertz scored twice against his former side, although the German continues to look a little uncomfortable in front of goal while offering intelligent link play.

Martin Odegaard, in his usual inside-right position, was given licence to play a little higher than usual, given the use of both Thomas Partey and Declan Rice alongside him in midfield for the first time in the Premier League this season. The result was that Arsenal produced arguably their best performance of 2023-24.

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This was not the first time Havertz has led the line this season. It’s become his default position. But one benefit of playing two natural No 10s as the two most advanced players is that they’re comfortable dropping back into midfield and keeping the side compact.



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Even more so than usual, Arsenal looked difficult to play through last night, with Havertz and Odegaard getting back goal side of Chelsea’s midfield duo, Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo. From that deep shape, they timed their press well.

Here, Odegaard waits for a backward pass from full-back (Marc Cucurella) to centre-back (Benoit Badiashile), then springs into life and Arsenal win the ball high up.

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But that’s the boring stuff. The really exciting things were what Arsenal did in possession, and their opening goal was one of the best examples you’ll find of a side creating and manipulating space.

Chelsea were initially in a reasonable shape: below, their midfield three are highlighted in blue, along with Partey, Rice and Odegaard (in yellow). Takehiro Tomiyasu has drifted inside from left-back, bringing Noni Madueke with him.

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But what changes everything is Havertz dropping from a centre-forward position to a midfield position. Neither of Chelsea’s centre-backs follow him, so Fernandez gets dragged across to close him down. That opens up space for Rice, asking for a pass in oceans of space. Via a combination with Partey, the ball is played to Rice on the run.

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Rice plays this situation brilliantly. He could have fed Leandro Trossard immediately on the outside. Instead, he drives at the youngster Alfie Gilchrist, committing him and forcing him to turn inside. Only then does Rice play in Trossard, through on goal and with space to finish calmly. It was a brilliant passing move.

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Havertz, perhaps with a point to prove against Chelsea, continued offering neat, intelligent link play to encourage others into attack. This one-two with Tomiyasu was a good example of his awareness…

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… as was this chest control for Odegaard. Havertz might not have the presence of an Olivier Giroud in the box, but this is the type of calm, selfless, back-to-goal play that the Frenchman once offered Arsenal.

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The star, though, was unquestionably Odegaard.

As detailed at the weekend, the two most common passing combinations that move the ball from outside the box to inside the box, in the entire Premier League, are Odegaard passing to Saka, and Saka passing to Odegaard. But it’s the former route which is the most prolific, particularly in situations like this when Odegaard traps the ball, rolls it towards him to create time and a passing angle, then slips it through for Saka.

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In a particularly inventive mood, Odegaard’s delightful chip over the top of the Chelsea defence produced an assist for Ben White’s somewhat accidental side-footed volleyed finish.

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But the most notable aspect of Odegaard’s performance was how well he combined with Havertz, effectively his partner in this system.

This move nearly created a chance with a perfect demonstration of the duo’s game — from Partey’s forward pass, Havertz offered another backheeled ball to Odegaard, before Arsenal’s captain attempted one of his trademark double-touch passes for Havertz, who looked to to run in behind. On this occasion, the pass was blocked — but this was pretty much the one-two you’d expect from a strike duo.

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And while Havertz’s game isn’t naturally about running in behind, he did it repeatedly here, bringing out the best in Odegaard’s passing ability. This superb reverse pass was perfectly weighted for Havertz to shoot first time.

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The inevitable assist came for Arsenal’s third, with Odegaard popping up in a left-of-centre position. That doesn’t happen often but, from that zone, he has more capacity for curling the ball in behind the defence for runners in behind. Havertz finished this chance confidently, and shortly afterwards scored his second of the game.

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Arsenal have a curious record in terms of goalscoring this season. On one hand, they’ve scored more than any other Premier League side. On the other, they’ve failed to score in five games — as often as relegation-threatened Luton Town, and as many times as Liverpool and Manchester City combined.

In some situations, they probably need a serious penalty-box presence to offer a different type of threat. But when everything clicks, Arsenal play brilliant attacking football, and their performance yesterday might be the best any Premier League side has produced all season.



The patient manipulation that underpins Martin Odegaard’s killer passes

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