Captain Odegaard driving young Gunners

Jan 04, 2023 03:08 PM IST

After a series of loans, the attacking midfielder is feeling at home in north London

January has been a key month in the football life of Martin Odegaard. It was when he signed for Real Madrid as a 15-year-old and it was when he was loaned, for the fourth time since 2015, to Arsenal in 2021.

Arsenal v Newcastle United - January 3, 2023 Arsenal's Martin Odegaard reacts REUTERS/David Klein EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club /league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.(REUTERS)
Arsenal v Newcastle United - January 3, 2023 Arsenal's Martin Odegaard reacts REUTERS/David Klein EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club /league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.(REUTERS)

With 12 goal involvements, one more than last season, Odegaard, 24, is leading a vibrant, young Arsenal who are eight points clear at the top of the Premier League after Tuesday’s fractious 0-0 draw against a defiant Newcastle who are third.

This was the first time the north Londoners dropped points at home. This is also the first time they haven’t scored in all competition this term and the second time in 11 games that they didn’t win. Furious that two “scandalous penalties” were not given, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said he was “proud of this team. “If you can't win, you mustn't lose.”

Odegaard, who was also the most involved in Arsenal’s attacking sequences as per Opta going into the game, could have changed that but fired over early. Before Newcastle, Odegaard had 32 shots, was involved in 25 chances created and 28 build-ups to shots.

But when he arrived, London was far from the home it is now. Scooped by Real for 2.3 million pounds, the Norwegian child prodigy seemed to be going the way of Freddy Adu, Adnan Januzaj, Javier Portillo, Alipio Duarte and Nii Lamptey --- players who struggled to live up to early promise. So good at Stromsgodset that he was regularly playing with older players since he was 11, so good that top clubs came calling into the quiet Norwegian city of Drammen before Real beat them all, Odegaard got his first start 676 days after signing for the La Liga champions. That was in the Cop del Rey. He moved to London on loan after 81 minutes of action at Real in December and January.

Before Arsenal made the loan deal permanent in August 2021, signing him for five years and 30 million pounds, Odegaard had moved to Heerenveen and Vitesse and to Real Sociedad where the attacking midfielder showed what he was capable of.

Odegaard scored against Real in the Copa del Rey and till he was called back to Madrid was possibly the best player in La Liga (31 games, 4 goals). This was before Covid-19 halted football in 2020. But at Real, he was back on the Real bench.

Everyone, from Luka Modric to then Real coach Zinedine Zidane and former club general manager and World Cup winner Jorge Valdano, agreed that he was special. “He can clarify everything with threaded pass, dribble and shoot from mid-range,” said Valdano.

But Real were “too rich in resources,” said Valdano. Playing like he could defy time --- he did that again in the World Cup --- Modric, in whose position Odegaard could have played, was one of them. Valdano hoped Odegaard would wait till some of the older players were shipped. But after eight games in six years, Odegaard wanted out. He wanted to go somewhere where he could play. It would be at a club where at the turn of the century Thierry Henry rediscovered his mojo.

Convinced by his ability off the ball and his intelligence when he had it, Arteta took him on loan as he was rebuilding at a club that looked lost after the Wenger years. “I think he can decide big football matches,” Arteta said in 2021.

Many things have contributed to Arsenal’s success this term: brisk starts, having most players in the rival half, better pressing and being able to match the intensity when rival teams raised theirs. Odegaard has been at the front and centre of most of this. He creates space for forwards and moves up through the centre. And he is key to Arsenal’s press.

“Taking the ball in moments others probably refuse to, but as well as his attitude, his rhythm and the way he presses and puts people under pressure,” Arteta has said.

Saying that his crossing and passing can improve, Arteta had also praised Odegaard’s application and the willingness to learn. “When you have those ingredients, normally good things happen. He is defining games, having a different kind of presence on the pitch and I really like what he is doing.”

Captaincy at Arsenal has been a curse for over a decade. Cesc Fabregas, Laurent Koscielny, Robin van Persie left after getting the armband, Arteta and Per Mertesacker didn’t play much after their appointments and Granit Xhaka and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang were stripped off it. Odegaard has changed that too.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Dhiman Sarkar is based in Kolkata with over two decades as a sports journalist. He writes mainly on football.

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