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How Mikel Arteta has Unleashed Martin Odegaard at Arsenal

By Rob Worthington (Deputy Editor)

For the first time in what feels an eternity, there is genuine debate at Arsenal over who the club’s best player is. Bukayo Saka is tearing up the right flank, causing opposing defenders headaches every week. Ben White is expertly marshalling the backline. Thomas Partey is the heartbeat of the Arsenal midfield. And Martin Ødegaard is the heartbeat of the… team?

The Norwegian has visibly taken a huge step forward in his development in recent weeks. He personifies the fluidity that is Arteta’s Arsenal’s right-hand-side. Combining with Bukayo Saka, he is producing some truly mesmerising moments of football. So, I find myself asking How Arteta has truly unleashed Ødegaard in such a fashion.

Ødegaard’s slightly modified role at Arsenal has certainly helped. He is a player who’s tended to drift to the right hand-side of a football pitch for his entire career, but that role is much more defined now. Since Arsenal’s emphatic 3-0 victory against Southampton last December, Ødegaard has been operating in a balanced midfield three, with Thomas Partey now the team’s vivid midfield pivot rather than a lateral partner to Granit Xhaka.

This has influenced where Ødegaard picks up the ball on the football pitch. The ever so slightly withdrawn nature of the role sees Ødegaard dropping into deep areas, and progressing the ball to those ahead of him, whether that be a member of the front three, or maybe even Xhaka at times. This role suits Martin Ødegaard, and that is evident in his production.

While the 23-year-old is more than capable of operating as a pure no. 10, this is not where he is at his best. His statistical profile compared to other attacking midfielders is perhaps just above average at best, whereas in comparison to fellow midfielders, it is quite remarkable. He sits in the 95th percentile and above for expected assists, key passes, passes into the penalty area, shot creating actions, pressures, and touches in the attacking third. He just falls shy with regard to his tackles in the attacking third, his progressive carries, and his progressive passes received.

Martin Ødegaard is a central midfielder. Martin Ødegaard should be compared to other central midfielders. Martin Ødegaard is a superb central midfielder. As Paul Merson stated quite divisively earlier this week, the Norweigan really is “one of the best in the Premier League.”

I sense; however, the assessment of the non-tangibles is also important when discussing Ødegaard’s recent form. Speaking to PA at the beginning of the month, Ødegaard revealed “I feel like I’m at home now.” It’d be foolish to underestimate the importance of this.

Throughout his career before Arsenal, the Norwegian must’ve felt like something of a nomad. Between 2014 and 2021 when he signed permanently for Arsenal, Ødegaard found himself at 5 different clubs. 5 different clubs between the age of 15 and 21. This is bound to be unsettling for a young player.

Ødegaard has finally found a home where he is treasured as a current superstar rather than a future star. The importance of this cannot be understated considering the context of his career trajectory thus far. His time at Arsenal thus far must have been so refreshing for Ødegaard, and the evidence for this is the undeniable is the fact that he is currently playing the best football of his career to date.

Not only is he being treated like a superstar by his supporters, but also by his management who quite vividly truly value him. In a press conference earlier this month, Mikel Arteta admitted his no. 8 is “one of the senior players here [at Arsenal], for sure.” He is a player who has been handed a great deal of responsibility, and that is clear in the way he operates on a football pitch. He plays with a swagger which suggests he knows he’s one of his team’s best and most important players.

His performances this season have led to rumours that the former Real Madrid man will be handed the Arsenal captaincy next season. It is easy to understand why. Contrasting the swagger and flair he plays with, Ødegaard is humble, he works incredibly hard evidenced in his pressing and ball-winning high up the pitch, and he is a willing learner. He has quickly become one of his manager’s on-pitch lieutenants, and that is doubtlessly helping his performance on the pitch.

That is not to say Ødegaard is the finished product just yet. As Mikel Arteta and Ødegaard himself have stated on numerous occasions, he needs to score more goals. This area of his game has improved this season, notching on 5 occasions, but the threat he poses in front of goal just isn’t quite where he’d want it to be right now.

So, a mixture of tangible and non-tangibles have elevated Martin Ødegaard’s Arsenal performances in recent weeks. A systematic tweak has enabled the Norwegian to thrive in a slightly less offensive role, but arguably more importantly, Martin Ødegaard feels valued. He is visibly enjoying his football, and that confidence is rubbing off on his performances. Long may it continue.

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