Arsenal icon Martin Keown issues ‘angry’ Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard transfer message

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Arsenal Invincibles hero Martin Keown admits he gets “angry” when Nicolas Pepe starts matches over Bukayo Saka and also feels that Emile Smith Rowe’s pathway is being “interrupted” by Martin Odegaard as he made clear his feelings that his old club should build around the Hale End duo.

The Gunners faced Villarreal on Thursday night in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final with Saka starting and Smith Rowe on the bench.

Arsenal need to beat former manager Unai Emery and the La Liga side if they are to stand any chance of playing Champions League football next season.

As it stands, the north Londoners won’t have any European football at the Emirates next term, with Mikel Arteta’s men 10th in the league.

Arsenal have been heavily reliant on their academy graduates this season amid their slump, with Saka and Smith Rowe among the clear stand-outs in 2021 in particular.

Their record with the pair in the team is far superior to their winning percentage without them, with Saka perhaps the club’s best performer this season.

The 19-year-old has played at right wing, left wing, left-back and in central midfield and had produced seven goals and eight assists in 40 appearances before winning a penalty against Villarreal.

And Keown insists he gets angry when he sees that the teenage England international and his countryman Smith Rowe aren’t in the starting eleven, such is his belief in their quality.

Reports have indicated Arsenal would like to sign Odegaard from Real Madrid permanently due to his performances since his January loan switch.

But legendary ex-centre-half Keown told BT Sport: “Having come through the ranks at the club myself, you want everyone else to be able to make that path.

“That’s the important thing, keep the pathway for the other young players.

“I get angry when, for instance, I see Pepe come in and he’s blocking the path for Saka.

“You wonder why you’ve got this player in from the soccer factory, he’s in the building, why are we blocking his pathway?

“You could say that [Odegaard is blocking Smith Rowe], what were they going to pay for him? £20million? Now he’s worth £50m.

“I don’t want their pathway interrupted with.

“That night [against Slavia Prague in the last round], Saka had two goals and grabbed a penalty, he became a man that night, he turned from a boy into a man.

“It just shows you, the next generation coming through see a pathway and that’s what it’s all about.”

Keown, a three-time Premier League champion with Arsenal, insists his old club also need to ensure there is sufficient experience alongside Saka and Smith Rowe however.

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He continued: “You’ve got to have those senior players, a good mix.

“You want 23-year-olds to 29-year-olds, that kind of age bracket. Proper men to build around those players.”

Fellow Arsenal legend Freddie Ljungberg meanwhile weighed in: “You can’t just trust the young players, you need leadership.

“What you’ve said [Martin] is important for them to see the pathway. Otherwise they’ll go somewhere else where they get the chance to play.”

Arsenal lost 2-1 in the first leg of their final-four clash at the Estadio la Ceramica with Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol on the scoresheet for the hosts in the first half-an-hour.

The Premier League giants saw on-loan midfielder Dani Ceballos sent off for a second yellow card in the second half but a penalty won by Saka after that was converted by Pepe for a vital away goal.

And the match became 10 vs 10 after former Watford midfielder Etienne Capoue was sent off for a second yellow of his own, fouling Saka with 15 minutes left and picking up an injury in the process, though Arsenal could not manage an equaliser.

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