This season was meant to be the season Martin Odegaard finally became the Galactico he was signed to be as a 16-year-old. A loan spell at Real Sociedad saw the Norwegian flourish into one of La Liga’s very best. Odegaard was supposed to spend two years on loan at La Real, but was recalled after just one such was the level of the performances he was putting in.
Bizarrely, Odegaard has started just three league games for Real Madrid this season, forcing the 22-year-old to request another loan move this month. Arsenal is his next destination after the north London club signed him on loan until the end of the season.
Much has been made of Arsenal’s creativity deficiency. The introduction of Emile Smith Rowe made a difference, giving Mikel Arteta someone to use in the number 10 position, but the Gunners are still too predictable and too easy to play against. This is why the addition of Odegaard, even if it’s only on loan, could be so significant.
Arsenal cancel trip to Florida Cup after Covid outbreak
Last season saw Odegaard thrive in a hybrid number eight-number 10 role for Real Sociedad. Imanol Alguacil’s attacking unit was a fluid, interchangeable hub of energy and Odegaard was the player around which the rest of his team-mates revolved. He was the beating heart of a team that came close to qualifying for the Champions League.
This is a role Odegaard could perform for Arsenal. There are similarities between the 4-2-3-1 system Imanol used with the Norwegian as the dynamo and the system Arteta has recently used at Arsenal.
'An amazing signing' - Why Odegaard is the perfect replacement for Ozil
La Real frequently played with a central midfield platform of Igor Zubledia and Mikel Merino to support Odegaard, but the Norwegian was also deployed a number of times in a midfield two with Mikel Oyarzabal positioned slightly further forward. Odegaard and Oyarzabal forged a strong partnership and the Norwegian could, in theory, find a similar player to bond with in Smith Rowe.
Tactically and stylistically, Odegaard is frequently compared to Luka Modric. In fact, the Norwegian was expected to be phased into the Real Madrid first team as Modric’s long-term successor this season such are the parallels that can be drawn between the two midfielders and the way they play the game.
Smith Rowe’s emergence means Arsenal’s most desperate need is no longer a new number 10. Instead, they are lacking a number eight in their attacking supply line. Alongside Thomas Partey and Smith Rowe, Odegaard could complete the dynamic, forward-thinking midfield unit Arteta wants, even if it is only until the end of the season.
This would see Granit Xhaka drop out of Arteta’s favoured line-up and could place more of an onus on Thomas to maintain the defensive structure of Arsenal’s team on his own. If, however, the Ghanaian can do this, making use of his natural mobility and pitch coverage, the reward could be great.
Nobody made more key passes for Real Sociedad than Odegaard (two per game) last season. He also made more crosses (1.1 per game) and dribbles (two per game) than any of his team-mates and only Oyarzabal marginally had more shots per game (1.7 compared to 1.6) than the Norwegian. Inject that sort of creative drive into Arsenal and Arteta’s side could be a very different sort of outfit.
Arsenal have looked to players like Dani Ceballos, Cedric Soares and Willian as short-term solutions and the results have underwhelmed, but Odegaard would set a precedent for what Arteta wants from his team going forward, even if he’s only around for a few months. He could show Arsenal what’s possible.
Arsenal go all-in on the Arteta project... and it's great to see - The Warm-Up
'We're going to have some new faces arriving' - Arteta feels new Arsenal signings close