Martin Keown says he has some sympathy for Nicolas Pepe after the attacker was left out of the Arsenal side again on Thursday night, but he believes the team is more compact without him.
The £72m record signing looked to be finding some form in recent weeks after goals against Southampton and Wolves.
The winger certainly looked like a run of games had lifted his performance levels but the last two games have seen Pepe relegated to the bench.
The return of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has seen Pepe shunted down the pecking order with Emile Smith Rowe taking his position out wide. That has left mew boy Martin Odegaard to play as a No.10 behind Aubameyang as Mikel Arteta searches for the right balance in attack.
Speaking after the 1-1 draw with Benfica, in which Arsenal created numerous chances, Keown told BT Sport: “I feel sorry for him (Pepe) because he did really well for a couple of games. But they lost those games. And he’s searching for the right balance with the ball and without the ball.
“With Smith Rowe I think his defensive compass is better than Pepe’s. He really works hard. As does Saka. That press has been better.”
Keown also suggested that Odegaard, who signed on loan from Real Madrid last month, is still not quite up to speed.
“Now a lot of problem for the Arsenal team is trying to find that spare player. It’s been Smith Rowe, he’s had a good run,” said Keown.
“Odegaard’s been given the luxury of playing in there. We’re still waiting to see. I think there’s a player under there but he’s not played much for Real Madrid.
“I think he’s only played seven or eight games this season. Maybe a little bit short on fitness.
“But if you don’t give him the ball we can’t see what he’s capable of. There were moments when he had the ball and made some good passes.
“He does really well for the goal and he’s a player they want to build around.”
Smith Rowe concerns
Keown also voiced his concerns about Smith Rowe’s change of position.
The 20-year-old, who spent time on loan at Huddersfield, has been a breath of fresh air at No.10.
“The reservations I have is Emile Smith Rowe was playing especially well in that position,” added the former England centre-back.
“Now, perhaps he didn’t feel he was getting enough from Pepe defensively so Smith Rowe’s gone into that position. Now you’ve got Saka and Smith Rowe in wide positions.
“They have really good movement, tuck inside nicely, they give that space for the full-backs to get wide and they know when to press.
“But maybe they lose a little bit, for the timebeing, until Odegaard is ready to match speed. There were glimpses of really good play.”