Why Arsenal Have to Do Everything To Keep Martin Ødegaard
Signed on loan in the January transfer window, Martin Ødegaard has quickly become a firm fan favourite, adding quality in the final third as well as emphasis to the Arsenal pressing game. Despite being just 22-years-old, the new captain of Norway has adjusted seamlessly to English football, putting in a stellar performance in Arsenal’s dramatic 3-3 draw at the London Stadium on Sunday.
Influence in Attack
It is no secret that Martin Ødegaard’s acquisition correlated almost perfectly with Arsenal’s pick up in form in 2021. They have amassed the third-highest number of points in the Premier League this calendar year, and have improved in almost every measurable metric. Certainly in an attacking sense, Ødegaard and Smith Rowe have been crucial to this upturn. The addition of a player closer to the striker, helped in part by the move away from a back three, has allowed both these players to shine.
What is particularly impressive from Ødegaard’s perspective is his ability to carry the ball, drawing defenders in and creating space for his teammates in the process. He completes over 8 progressive carries per 90, more than Bruno Fernandes, as well as 4.21 progressive passes per 90. Whilst he is yet to contribute directly to an assist, he provided the passes wide for the assists for all three Arsenal goals in their most recent draw with West Ham. Whilst he doesn’t shoot often, he rarely gives the ball away, ensuring that Arsenal players can get up the pitch to support him without fear of being caught in transition, something which has occurred a lot in the last 18 months-2 years.
In terms of passing metrics, he’s averaged a pass success rate per 90 of 87% which ranks him within the 95th percentile in the league. The passes he tends to make are risky yet effective especially down and around the final third of the opposition.
On the ball, he is able to dribble and take on players in 1v1 situations to effect as he consistently can wriggle out of danger without losing the ball. So far he hasn’t been huge in terms of taking quality shots (though he tries) or even being that successful in terms of xG assisted (0.12 per 90.) However, he is quite successful in what social media affectionately calls the “pre-assist,” and with his passing success rate you can extrapolate that it is only a matter of time until his xG assisted numbers climb up.
Off the ball he also provides the added component of winning the ball through an active press where he averages 3.66 regains per 90 placing him in the 87th percentile within the league.
While Arsenal’s improvement started before the Norwegian midfielder joined the Gunners, his contribution and influence continue to grow from match to match. At 22 he is yet to come into his prime and his stellar performances make you wonder what his ceiling could be.
Leading on the pitch
Perhaps more important than his overall offensive contribution is the accountability and leadership the 22 year old is providing in the match. It’s uncanny how confident he is how after being here a few weeks he’s already integrating himself as one of the team’s leaders, something sorely needed on and off the pitch for Arsenal.
From Arsenal’s “Open Mic” series, it is clear that Ødegaard offers great leadership from the no.10 role. Not only is he happy to receive the ball in tight situations, but he is also happy to knuckle down when the going got tough. In his post-match press conference, Arteta said that
“When everyone was a little trembling he gave us that stability and that composure on the ball and he created chance after chance”.
The Arsenal boss continued by commenting that from day one:
‘The way he steps on the pitch, he always wants the ball, the way he commands the pressing. He’s been really influential.”
Ødegaard’s command of the press in particular was noticeable in the draw against West Ham. In his role as central overseer, he regularly cajoled his teammates into pressing or into the correct position to set up the Arsenal press. Much of his attentions were focused on Lacazette, as can be seen below, but he was also vocal in his demands to press higher and with more intensity.
Whilst these are mere snapshots, the full video is much in the same vein, and can be found below.
Ødegaard’s command of the press and influence on his teammates is almost certainly one of the main reasons that Emile Smith Rowe has been shifted out to the left-hand side to accommodate the Norweigian. As both showed in the 2-1 derby win over Tottenham, however, they can play brilliantly in tandem, despite some external doubts.
With every passing game, Martin Ødegaard’s value to Mikel Arteta and Arsenal football club increases. Unfortunately, so does his value as an asset to his cash-strapped parent side, Real Madrid. The attacking midfielder’s performances will surely have caught the eye of all the major clubs in Europe, many of whom are likely to be able to offer larger fees than the Gunners. It is well known that current Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane does not see Ødegaard in his first-team plans, but a change of manager could change the fortunes of the 22-year-old.
If Zidane were to stay, there is the possibility that Arsenal can extend the loan of the Norweigian, as they did previously with Dani Ceballos. With just two years left on his deal and Gareth Bale looking to remain at the Santiago Bernabeu for next season however, the Spanish outfit will surely be looking to cash in on an asset as they attempt to finance a much-needed rebuild.
Ødegaard himself may have some say on where his future lies; speaking to Norweigian media, he said
“My deal with Arsenal is until the end of season. We’ll see what happens this summer. I’ve said things before that I still stand for: Stability and development are key words.”
If Arsenal can secure Ødegaard’s signature, they will have a playmaker capable of doing both the hard yards and the creative side of the game, with an ability to lead the high-intensity press that Arteta is seeking to implement.