Martin Ødegaard: Improving An Øzil-less Arsenal

Martin Odegaard - ZICOBALL

In 2015, Real Madrid finalised the signing of 16-year-old Martin Ødegaard, an exciting talent with huge potential. Six years on, the Norwegian international is now close to sealing a loan move and showcasing his talent in the Premier League. 

The 22-year-old more than played his part in an impressive season with Real Sociedad last campaign, guiding La Real to a 6th placed finish in La Liga. A combination of flair and creativity with Mikel Oyarzabal made Imanol Alguacil’s side difficult to handle. La Real claimed statement victories against Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid, booking their place in the Copa del Rey final. 

Despite starting in Real Madrid’s curtain-raiser of the 20/21 campaign and making his Champions League debut in November, the creative midfielder will again leave the Santiago Bernabéu on loan this month. This time, he’s poised to take centre stage for Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal. 

With the departure of Mesut Özil to Fenerbahçe, Arteta will be actively looking to bolster his attacking options in the hope of pushing up the Premier League table. The talent of Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka has undoubtedly given the Gunners a much-needed boost of confidence. Alongside the capabilities Ødegaard possesses, Arsenal’s season may take a turn in the right direction at precisely the right time. 

The six-month loan will go one of two ways. Ødegaard will be a success from the off, or he’ll fail to hit the ground running and need extra time to acclimatise, it’s that simple. There’s no doubt that Arsenal has lacked what the Özil of old boasted – that bit of magic to win games. Whilst Smith-Rowe continues to impress and earn plaudits for each appearance; it’s unfair to put all the pressure on his capable shoulders at such a young age. The more experienced Ødegaard can help bring a European pedigree to Arsenal that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette have been starved of in recent times.

La Real‘s Ødegaard

Ødegaard shone for Real Sociedad last campaign, showing his potential and arguably having his most successful season to date. The Norwegian conjured 10 goal contributions and excelled amongst a handful of attacking options for La Real, including the aforementioned Manchester City target, Oyarzabal. 

The former Vitesse and Heerenveen loanee ranked third for passes into the penalty area (73), fourth for carries into the final third (89) and sixth for shot-creating actions (116) in La Liga last season. If that’s anything to go by, Arsenal have a supremely gifted player on their hands. 

That being said, the Premier League is an entirely different ball game. The best of the best, where form evolving in other countries often dissipates on arrival. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt from those he wowed in the Basque region that Ødegaard can set the world alight in the Premier League and prove the doubters wrong.

Fitting into Mikel Arteta’s system 

After a shaky start to the season, it looks like Mikel Arteta has finally found a winning formula that can get Arsenal firing again. Since their 4-1 EFL Cup defeat to Manchester City in December, Arsenal has set up a 4-2-3-1 formation. Before their narrow defeat against Southampton knocked them out of the FA Cup this weekend, Arteta’s men went on a six-game unbeaten run.

The midfield protection allows the two full-backs to overlap and provide an added threat on both flanks, whilst Saka and Aubameyang operate as inverted wingers. The front three will often rotate, meaning Smith-Rowe will have free roam, and Aubameyang will support Lacazette in a central position. 

This is a system that the Norwegian is familiar with after flourishing last campaign. La Real’s 4-4-1-1 formation often merged into a 4-2-3-1 system, with Cristian Portu and Oyarzabal providing the width, and Ødegaard playing behind Aleksander Isak. 

It’s clear to see Arsenal need more attacking options to relieve pressure from their remarkable Hale End generational talents. Willian? Flop. Nicolas Pepe? Disappointing. Too many underperforming stars have failed to live up to reputations. The arrival of a highly talented creative midfielder with a willingness to prove himself in the best league in the world is undoubtedly a no brainer. After all, he’s still got the Lionel Messi comparisons to justify yet. 

While the CAM position is probably his preferred option, Ødegaard’s versatility allows him to play on the right or left. Though with Bukayo Saka seemingly making that right-hand side his very own, and Smith-Rowe impossible to drop, maybe Arteta will opt to play him on the left-hand side and restore Aubameyang in a more central position? It’s a headache, but a headache that Arteta and the supporters will more than welcome if it pushes Arsenal further up the table.

SHADES OF MESUT ÖZIL

Özil was a remarkable player for Arsenal with undoubted ability. His tendency to drop in between the midfield and defensive lines, and find that instinctive pass in-behind the defence was a joy to watch. 

Now the saga has finally found an ending; Arsenal will miss that world-class presence in their team capable of changing the game in an instance. Ødegaard can assuredly step into Õzil’s shoes in the short-term and pose as an answer to Arsenal’s future without the German. Extraordinary technique coupled with unique line-splitting vision; sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

With the loan deal now all-but confirmed bar official statements from involved clubs, the Norwegian’s path to Premier League football is concrete. Whether Ødegaard can cut it in the Premier League, only time will tell. What we know for sure is that Arsenal will gain someone with immeasurable talent and one who is more than capable of becoming a success under Mikel Arteta. 

Words by Dan Woffenden – @DanWoff98

Graphic by Sam Ingram – @SamIngram_/Credit: Reuters