Some questioned Arsenal’s decision to pay £30m for Martin Odegaard. At the time, the Gunners appeared to have greater priorities than signing another attack-minded midfielder, but Mikel Arteta recognised what the Norwegian could bring to the Emirates Stadium as his team grew. The Spaniard has been vindicated in his decision.
Arsenal are the only Premier League team to have a 100% record after four fixtures this season and Odegaard has been central to their good start. Not only has the 23-year-old scored three goals in those four games, he has been a driving force for the Gunners. Odegaard is playing at the top of his game right now.
Eyebrows were also raised when Odegaard was named Arsenal’s new club captain during the summer. Gabriel Jesus and Granit Xhaka were also added to Arteta’s so-called ‘leadership group,’ but Odegaard has started each of the Gunners’ four Premier League matches wearing the captain’s armband.
Odegaard isn’t the most obvious of leaders. He doesn’t shout and scream like most in English soccer are accustomed to seeing from captains, but the Norwegian is leading by example and has been emboldened by the trust placed in him by Arteta and the coaching staff at the Emirates Stadium.
It’s been a long process for Arsenal to get to this point. Arteta inherited an imbalanced squad in need of reconstruction and it took a series of transfer windows for the former Manchester City assistant manager to shape the team in the way they wanted. It’s only now that Arteta’s vision is truly starting to become a reality.
Jesus’ arrival from Manchester City could prove to be a landmark moment for the North London club with the Brazilian forward giving Arsenal a different dimension in attack. Arteta clearly recognised how Jesus could be deployed after working together at City. In turn, the approach has helped unlock Odegaard’s potential to impact the game.
Against Bournemouth and Fulham, Odegaard scored after making late runs into the attacking third. This is something Arteta has clearly instructed the Norwegian to do and this space is vacant because of the way Jesus plays the number nine role for Arsenal. This space wasn’t there when Alexandre Lacazette was the frontman.
Odegaard’s career path to date has been a meandering one. He broke through as a teenage wunderkind and earned a transfer to Real Madrid where he never had the chance to develop away from the spotlight. Loan moves to Heerenveen and Vitesse were challenging, but a switch to Real Sociedad saw the Norwegian flourish.
After a loan spell at Real Sociedad which had many hailing Odegaard as one of the best midfielders in La Liga, he was widely expected to become an important part of the Real Madrid team, but this never materialised and the Norwegian was left on the sidelines at the Santiago Bernabeu.
“At 23, he’s already had a lot of experience. He’s already been exposed to a lot of pressure – he’s played for Real Madrid, he knows what that’s about,” Arteta explained about his new club captain after a particularly impressive performance against Bournemouth. “He’s more humble and more hungry than ever before.”
Technically, Odegaard has always been an incredible specimen. The fundamental qualities of his game are sound and this is what initially caught the eye of scouts around the world when he burst on to the scene as a teenager in his homeland. Since then, though, Odegaard has added a physicality to his game.
Arteta wants his Arsenal team to play with high intensity on and off the ball and Odegaard has come to embody this. The 23-year-old moves the ball quickly when he has possession, but is also proactive when he doesn’t have it. Together with Jesus, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, Arsenal have forged a frontline that knows how to press.
Arsenal aren’t quite the finished article. Fans are excitedly talking about the prospect of their team mounting a challenge for the Premier League title this season, but that might be beyond Arteta’s young side. They are, however, on an upward trajectory and this season you can underline the progress they have made as a major inflection point.
It’s true that Arteta could do with adding another central midfielder to his squad, while some questions are being asked about his team’s lack of depth in the right back position. But in Odegaard Arsenal have a player to build around for years to come. It’s only now that the Gunners are truly seeing what their captain is all about.