Arsenal had Martin Odegaard to thank for their win against Crystal Palace on Monday evening.
Club captain Martin Odegaard stepped up to score the penalty that secured victory for Arsenal at Selhurst Park. The Norwegian playmaker looked confident and composed, before stroking the ball past a wrong-footed Sam Johnstone and handing a 1-0 lead to the Gunners in the 54th minute.
However, Mikel Arteta had no idea that Odegaard would be the one to take the crucial spot kick.
Bukayo Saka has been the designated Arsenal penalty taker in recent times, but the England international missed a vital spot kick against West Ham United last season. Given how much responsibility Saka already carries in this Arsenal team, he will perhaps benefit from the burden of penalties being lifted from his shoulders.
The decision for Odegaard to step up, though, was made on the pitch at Selhurst Park. In his post-match press conference, when asked if he knew that the 24-year-old would be the one to take the penalty, Arteta said, “I had no clue, to be fair. It’s about leadership of players and if they felt it was the right thing to do, for me I’m fine. They have to make those decisions on the pitch, I was surprised like everybody else,” as quoted by Hayters.
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Whether Odegaard is now the permanent penalty taker for Arsenal, or if it is a responsibility that is to be shared amongst a group of players at the Emirates Stadium, remains to be seen.
In any case, this situation demonstrates how much faith Arteta has in his players. Arsenal have a young squad, but they have amassed a huge amount of experience together over the course of the last couple of seasons.
Given that they’re aiming to challenge Manchester City for the Premier League title this season, they will be expecting a campaign laced with intense pressure, huge expectation, and nervous moments. They will need a great deal of maturity to cope with these aspects of their season, and they demonstrated that they have maturity in abundance against Crystal Palace, both with the penalty decision and the manner in which they saw the game out.
Arteta will be proud of how his young Arsenal players negotiated this difficult trip to south London.