Martin Ødegaard’s Norwegian Brilliance: Analysed
It’s not a surprise that the Arsenal management and scouts insisted on pursuing either James Maddison or Martin Ødegaard in the summer. Both are now excelling in the Premier League and have arguably been in the best form with Manchester City‘s Kevin De Bruyne. But it’s Ødegaard that remains a strong contender for December’s Player of the Month award after a spectacular month in which domestic football was disrupted by various COVID outbreaks causing multiple postponements.
Martin was lured in on loan last year from Real Madrid after a lack of game time in Spain since he was signed as the ‘next big thing’ at the age of only 16. He spent a season on loan at Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem which has hosted talents such as Mason Mount the year before. It was no surprise that the Eredivise was more than suitable to his style of football, scoring nine and assisting twelve, enough to finish fifth that season.
Playing for the Dutch side primarily as a winger, Real Madrid aimed to prepare him for LaLiga football with a loan to Real Sociedad for the 2019/20 season. In the season he scored four goals and assisted four times, including a goal against his parent club in the Copa del Rey quarter-final eliminating them. Sociedad went on to win the whole tournament beating Athletico Bilbao in the final. But the loan was an important one for the Norwegian not because of the success in trophies but because he had finally found a position that suited his creative playmaking ability. Martin was moved into a more central attacking midfield spot which he hasn’t been moved out of since.
Ødegaard was handed an opportunity for the Galacticos but failed to break through properly and when the January transfer window arrived, he was shipped off out to North London as Arsenal were crying out for some creativity. A quiet season consisted of two assists but the key highlight will be his only goal that season fending off rivals Tottenham Hotspur to win 3-1.
When the loan came to a finish, it was highly unlikely that Martin would be staying, especially with a new manager arriving in Madrid who would be open to new alternatives. But quickly did Carlo Ancelotti reveal that Ødegaard was not in his plans and was open to selling him. At this point, Mikel was in pursuit of James Maddison, but negotiations that surpassed £50 million posed questions in the Spaniard’s mind.
Arsenal opted to bring back the Norwegian on a permanent deal for 35 million euros (£29.35 million) as one of many signings to rebuild the club that was falling below its standards.
Arteta said that he liked, “a lot of things that he brought last season. He made us better, we needed more options and alternatives for creativity.”
And indeed was Mikel correct. Martin’s ability to lie in between the defensive and midfield lines and switch play quickly was exactly what was needed, allowing talented youngsters Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka to roam on both flanks and take on defenders. An example would be Arsenal’s last fixture against Norwich City where Ødegaard recorded three assists out of five goals scored that afternoon. The first was exactly what Mikel brought him in to do, collecting the ball at an angle in the middle of the field, switching play into Saka who found space to cut in and place it past an outstretched Gunn. It was perfect football, a replica of what had been practised in previous games.
What do the stats say?
The 23-year-old has the second most completed through balls in the Premier League this campaign (13) behind Bruno Fernandes (15) and ahead of Joao Cancelo and Trent Alexander-Arnold (12). He has a pass completion rate as a whole of 84.8% (per 90) placing in the 97th percentile of attacking midfielders and wingers. Interestingly, Arsenal’s very own Emile Smith Rowe is top with 87.3%. So what do these stats back up? They show Ødegaard’s brilliance with distribution and how he can dictate play without recording world-beating numbers week in week out. He is one of the players that can be noticed on the pitch not because of goals scored. He is recognised for the effort in the buildup play to the goals and how they are created.
This is why Martin Ødegaard was such a tremendous acquisition to Arsenal Football Club. His playmaking ability allowed Saka, Smith Rowe and Martinelli in recent times, which means Arsenal are now more of a goal threat compared to recent years and the drought at the start of the season. The Norwegian’s brilliance is driving the Gunners right up the table.