Martin Odegaard’s potential was obvious from a very early age. The Norwegian was only 15 years old when Real Madrid came calling, signing the teenager when the rest of world soccer had labelled him a wunderkind. Nearly a decade on, Odegaard is realising his potential as Arsenal’s captain and best player.
In fact, Odegaard hasn’t just been Arsenal’s best player this season – he has been the best player in the entire Premier League. The Gunners are currently top of the division and Odegaard has been a driving force for Mikel Arteta’s side, registering seven goals and five assists in just 16 appearances from central midfield.
This still doesn’t illustrate the level of Odegaard’s performances. He is the one setting the tone for Arsenal as the Premier League table-toppers, maintaining the intensity of their play in the middle and the final third of the pitch. Odegaard has become the Gunners’ very own Kevin de Bruyne in the way he sees and plays the game.
“I was hoping that he could show the talent that he has. His attitude, his willingness to learn and his application is always incredible,” Arteta recently explained. “And when you have those ingredients normally good things happen and Martin is in a really good moment. He is defining games, he is having a different kind of presence on the pitch and I really like what he is doing.”
Many eyebrows were raised when Arteta made the decision to name Odegaard as Arsenal’s new club captain before the start of the 2022/23 campaign. The Norwegian had never come across as a vocal leader on the pitch, but the responsibility placed on Odegaard has emboldened him. He is leading by example at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal have taken major strides forward under the stewardship of Arteta and this is embodied by the development of Odegaard. Arteta pushed for the permanent signing of the Norwegian after a successful spell on loan from Real Madrid when others might have spent the money on other areas of the squad.
However, Arteta recognised just how important it was to have a midfielder operator like Odegaard at the heart of his team. He needed a technically able pass-master who could progress the ball through line-breaking passes and provide goal threat from late runs into the penalty box. Odegaard ticked all the boxes even if some couldn’t see it at the time.
Real Madrid have surely viewed Odegaard’s growth at Arsenal with some regret. The Norwegian was billed as Luka Modric’s natural heir at the Santiago Bernabeu and his performances in the Premier League this season have bolstered the comparison – Odegaard plays with the same guile of the Croatian legend.
Modric is perhaps the only central midfielder operating at a higher level than Odegaard this season, something that may ease Real Madrid’s pain at allowing the latter to leave on the cheap not so long ago. Odegaard, however, is at the vanguard of the next generation. He could be one of the best in the Premier League, and Europe, for years to come.
At just 24, there is still plenty time for Odegaard to advance his game, with Arteta clear in the areas he believes the midfielder could still refine. “I think physically he can still improve in many areas,” he said. “The way he can drive with the ball and eliminate people more, his crossing, his passing range can still be better.
“Defensively he is improving every single time. And that mentality to go on the pitch and win the game and have that mentality every three days to go and do that. He is still someone who has come from a very specific development process and now he is at a place where he is a very important player.”
Odegaard is in the right place for his own development. The Norwegian certainly isn’t alone as a high-quality young player who is reaching new heights at the Emirates Stadium this season with Bukayo Saka, William Saliba, Gabriel Martinelli and others all giving the Gunners a youthful look under Arteta.
Even if Arsenal miss out on the Premier League title this season, they are in a good place to compete for major honours with players like Odegaard leading the way. Potential doesn’t always materialise into brilliance, but the Norwegian has managed to live up to the high expectations placed on him as a teenager.