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NMA Spotlight: Martin Odegaard of Arsenal

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Let’s run the rule over Arsenal’s new midfield magician

Martin Odegaard - Arsenal - Premier League
Martin Odegaard has begun to take flight since landing at the Emirates. Mikel Arteta wants to keep him in his team; should he be in yours too?
Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

Martin Odegaard was one of the best midfielders in La Liga last season, performing so well for Real Sociedad that his parent club, Real Madrid, recalled him from loan a year early. However, once back in Madrid, an injury prevented him from winning Zinedine Zidane’s favor, so opportunities with Los Blancos dried up.

Another loan move seemed assured then, so when the January window arrived, Arsenal was happy to snap up a player who had once been heralded as the greatest Norwegian talent in history (at least until the subsequent emergence of Erling Haaland, anyway).


Background

If his form was absent when Arsenal signed him, Odegaard’s pedigree was certainly there. By age 13, he had already taken training visits to Bayern Munich and Manchester United. By the time Odegaard was 15, John Arne Riise, the most-capped player on the Norwegian national team, was demanding that Odegaard get a call-up to play for his country. The teen was signed by global football giant Real Madrid the following year, and became the youngest debutant in the club’s history when he subbed in for Cristiano Ronaldo on May 23, 2015 at the age of 16 years and 157 days.


Loan to Arsenal

Odegaard’s sterling resumé notwithstanding, Arsenal fans were all too aware of their club’s sketchy history with January loan signings. To jog your memory, I give you Denis Suarez and Kim Kallstrom, two highly-anticipated winter loanees who ended up playing for Arsenal just 10 times between them.

Yet Odegaard’s arrival at the Emirates was nonetheless met with cautious excitement, and Gunners fans dutifully rolled out the customary “Welcome to Arsenal — Skills and Goals” treatment on YouTube.

But any initial doubts Gunners fans may have had about Norway’s captain were quickly put to rest. In just two short months, Odegaard has already played more games for Arsenal than Suarez and Killstrom combined, and he has actually now seen more minutes in a Gunners shirt than he did for Real Madrid. And along the way, he has steadily become a leader in the locker room as well as Mikel Arteta’s preferred No. 10.

Just how much impact has he had on the side? Well, check out the following chart from Sky Sports that testifies to his role as Arsenal’s most important attacking catalyst:

But the Norwegian offers more than just incisive passing and smart combination play. He also brings a gritty commitment to defend. Since joining the side, he has averaged over 12 kilometers per game, the most of any Gunner. But he’s not running just to cover ground; he brings the same intelligence to his defensive play as he does to his creative role. As Arteta says, “He commands the pressing.” Another chart from Sky Sports tells this tale:

That is the kind of defensive work ethic that we would never expect to see from a certain recently-departed German playmaker, and it is one of the main reasons why Odegaard’s teammates and manager have become smitten with the Norwegian. “He works incredibly hard – in training and games. I think everyone is really pleased and I hope he continues the form he’s on,” says Callum Chambers.


The Break-Out Against West Ham

Odegaard’s growing influence blossomed into full-flower against West Ham United on March 21. With his team already down 0-3 just one-third of the way into the match, the 22 year-old stepped up and took control, setting the stage for an unlikely comeback in which he was involved in all three of Arsenal’s goals. The highlights of his performance are collected here:

After the match, Arteta heaped praise on Odegaard, saying “When everyone was a little trembling, he gave us that stability, that composure on the ball, and he created chance after chance.” The underlying stats confirm the importance of Odegaard’s contributions; here are some that were tweeted out by Squawka Football:

In fact the Twitter-verse was rampant with Arsenal supporters swooning over their new hero and imploring Arsenal’s management to secure Odegaard’s services permanently. Gunners fan Piers Morgan, who has had a well-known and long-running public feud with Mesut Ozil, chipped in with praise for Odegaard while taking a back-handed shot at Ozil.


Will He Stay?

It’s no secret that Arteta does want to convert Odegaard’s loan into a permanent contract: “I love talented and creative players that all the time are willing to take the ball and make (chances) happen, that are mobile and as well hard-working. He is one of them.”

Indeed, with Arsenal’s talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang now almost 32 years old (and out-of-sorts to boot), Odegaard has looked the kind of player that Arteta could begin to rebuild around. And the core of that new-look squad could already be in place: Some have referred to Odegaard, Emile Smith-Rowe, and Bukayo Saka as Arsenal’s “Holy Trinity”.

It’s reasonable to assume that the thought of making a home at the Emirates might appeal to Odegaard, too. What player wouldn’t relish the thought of having a Big Six team built around him? And having already established himself as a leader and string-puller at Arsenal, why would he want to return to Real Madrid, where he would have to try to scratch and claw his way into the starting lineup under a manager who doesn’t rate him?

There are certainly hints that Odegaard might prefer to stay in London. When asked about Arteta he said “He is incredible. I have a lot to learn from him. I just need to ‘sharpen my ears’ and pay attention. He is fantastic.” In turn, Arteta has said that Odegaard “sees us as like a family, and that’s a great way to feel with someone that comes from a different club, that he’s got such a feeling straight away.”

Indeed, after Odegaard scored in the North London derby, Callum Chambers called him a “wizard” on Twitter, and Emile Smith-Rowe uploaded a goat symbol (i.e. GoAT). And when asked where he would like to play next season Odegaard said, “The 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 keywords.”

But the controlling party in this decision is, of course, Real Madrid. Odegaard’s loan came without a purchase option, and the Norwegian’s contract with Real contains an eye-popping £300M release clause. And although third-party sources place a more-realistic £40M valuation on the Norwegian, it’s uncertain whether Real Madrid’s owner Florentino Perez would part with him in any case.

Perez is reportedly targeting Odegaard’s compatriot Erling Haaland as a summer transfer, with Kylian Mbappe identified as Plan B. Will Perez eye Odegaard as an asset that can be liquidated to help fund the purchase of a marquee forward, or would it make more sense to retain the services of an in-form (Norwegian-speaking) playmaker who can create chances for that newly-acquired goal-scorer to finish?

In an ironic catch-22 for Arsenal, the better Odegaard performs in a Gunners shirt, the more difficult it may be for Arteta to sign him. Odegaard’s EPL performances have not only created a more persuasive case for Perez to keep him, but they have also caught the eyes of other high-profile suitors to drive up his market value. Should Perez decide to sell him, Arsenal will probably need to compete with big-name clubs from all over Europe to get Odegaard’s signature, and the winner will have to shell out some heavy coin.

Much will also probably depend on Zinedine Zidane. Odegaard does not seem to figure into the Frenchman’s plans, so if the embattled Los Blancos gaffer can resurrect his club’s season and avoid the sack this summer, then Odegaard could be allowed to leave. But if Zidane suffers the axe, his replacement may want to hang on to Odegaard — and Odegaard may fancy the chance for a new beginning with his old club.


His Fantasy Value

Fantasy managers, of course, are free to purchase Odegaard whenever they feel like it, and consequently they will want to know whether they should bring Odegaard into their squads.

In the Premiership, we’ve now seen the Norwegian play 471 minutes spread across eight appearances. Over that span, he has accomplished one goal and no assists. Taking Cup competitions into account, he has appeared a total of twelve times in a Gunners shirt, scoring two goals and registering no assists. While he is surely still settling into the side after just having joined Arsenal in January, these numbers are consistent with the stats he has accrued over his entire career: 15 goals and 21 assists across 116 appearances in top-flight domestic league play. Even last year during his break-out season with Real Sociedad, he recorded only four goals and six assists over 31 appearances.

FPL managers will quickly realize that numbers like this don’t augur well for Odegaard’s prospects in that platform, where the performances of midfielders and forwards hinges primarily on their ability to score goals and provide assists. And sure enough, a review of his FPL production reveals that he has returned more than two points only once: in GW-28 when he scored against Tottenham in the North London Derby (he also earned full bonus in that game).

While it is true that he was initially eased into the side and therefore not given full shifts until more recently, he will not interest me in FPL unless and until his role evolves into one more directly involved in end-product than he has historically delivered. For now, he seems to be the classic “assist-to-the-assist” type of player that lovers of the beautiful game admire in real life but avoid in FPL.

Fantrax’s more comprehensive scoring system rewards a broader set of real-life statistics than FPL does, so players like Odegaard tend to fare better in that game. But even in Fantrax he hasn’t dazzled. Despite the goal against Tottenham, he returned just 12.5 points that week, and his man-of-the-match performance against West Ham United generated only seven. But he’s currently available for just $1.80 in F-11 and $1.67 in F-17, so at those price points I’d rate him a strong “buy” anyway. He’ll easily return value while freeing up budget to spend elsewhere, and he’s likely to only get better as he continues to grow into his role as the conductor of Arsenal’s orchestra.

Note: Odegaard was withdrawn with an ankle injury during Norway’s match against Gibraltar yesterday. The substitution was precautionary, and the injury is not felt to be serious, but follow this space for updates.


Conclusion

As we scroll through the list of this year’s winter transfers, it’s pretty clear that Jesse Lingard’s loan to West Ham was probably the best of them. But the emergence of Martin Odegaard as the fulcrum of the Gunner’s attack ranks the Norwegian right up there as well. It would be a treat for Arsenal to nail down his services permanently, and fans of the EPL would surely appreciate the long-term addition to the league of a player of his class.

But at this juncture his future remains unclear, so for now let’s be content to sit back and enjoy his talents (and maybe even some fantasy production) while we can. After all, how can you not root for a guy who has this reaction to his team’s victory in the North London derby, having played for the club only a matter of weeks? Victoria Concordia Crescit!

Images, quotes, and data for this article were sourced from: dailycannon.com, transfermarkt.com, marca.com, en.widipedia.org, skysports.com, mirror.co.uk, talksport.com, independent.co.uk, standard.co.uk, coachesvoice.com, sportbible.com, arseblog.news, and caughtoffside.com.

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Have you been monitoring Odegaard’s progress at Arsenal? Would you like to see him stay at the Emirates permanently? What do you make of his fantasy prospects? Will you bring him into your FPL or Fantrax sides? Please take our poll and then share your thoughts in the comments.

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