It’s an Affair of the Heart: The Story of My Unrequited Norwegian Love
By Mac Johnson (Senior Writer)
I’m trying my absolute hardest not to fall in love with Martin Ødegaard and failing miserably. That’s it, that’s the tweet.
But on a serious note, I constantly have to remind myself that he’s only here for six months and will probably not stay any longer. Of course, that doesn’t stop me from hoping.
After his full Arsenal debut, the 4-2 win over Leeds United, Ødegaard spoke to Norwegian news outlet TV2, and when prompted about whether or not he would make his Arsenal stay permanent, he said, “You never know what is going to happen, but for now I am just focusing on doing my best this season and helping the team as much as possible.”
It’s a classic footballer’s answer, because frankly, he’s got no clue. He’s lived in Madrid since 2016, and loves his parent club, but he’s also demonstrated a passion and love for this club that has me falling in love right back. Of course, I’m sure he’s grateful for the mere opportunity to play regular first-team football, especially off the back of an injury this fall, but it seems like more than that.
He has settled in quickly, his teammates already trust him to play in Arteta’s No.10-dependent system, and regardless of how much you like winning football games, it takes a little more than a love for winning to cause you to drop to your knees, roaring in celebration, after Auba’s 86th minute winner against Benfica.
Yes, I genuinely believe some part of Ødegaard wants to stay at the Emirates, which is why losing him will hurt all the more.
The rhetoric around Ødegaard at the moment is that his return to Real Madrid hinges upon the presence of Zinedine Zidane as manager. The 22-year-old has refused to play for Los Blancos if the Frenchman stays, but given the incumbent exit of Isco, Real Madrid will likely want to keep their former boy wonder.
Not to mention, with a market value of around £35m, clubs with a UCL budget are likely to eye a move for Ødegaard, especially if he continues to perform well at a club like Arsenal.
One of the reasons I'm having so much trouble ignoring Ødegaard is that every match, the Norwegian shows me a side of him I haven’t seen before. Of course, his close-control and passing ability are always at the forefront of his game, but even in his short time in North London, he’s learned and grown.
He’s running more, defending harder, hassling players in the press, something he rarely did in Spain last season for Real Sociedad. He’s adapting himself to the English game, which just begs for more time within it.
And on that point, Thursday night’s drubbing of Olympiacos was the first time we saw him truly take control of a game. He screamed for the ball when he was in space, conducted runs, and nearly singlehandedly managed our attack, which was our best feature on the night.
He still makes mistakes and still has room to grow, but he’s also shown us he can take a game by the horns and really wrest it into his sphere of control.
In a recent interview with Norwegian media source VG, Ødegaard said “I said many times that I’ve been looking for stability (in the same club) but haven’t found it. I think it’ll be very important to find stability. I’m very happy at Arsenal, enjoying myself. I like it here. Now my focus is to finish the season, then we’ll see.”
Again, another noncommittal quote, and yet my heart swells.
The statement straight up makes it seem like he wants us. It’s like the world’s most frustratingly easy maths equation: it reads along the lines of “I want stability + I like it here = I want to stay”, but it’s just not that simple. Where we finish in the league, whether or not we get EUL or UCL football again, whether or not we offer him a bumper contract in the summer, it could all change the equation at the drop of a hat.
So here I sit, falling in love with Martin Ødegaard as I promise myself and my future children that I won’t do just that, wondering what the future would hold. Because I truly think Ødegaard’s inclusion in this group of young stars could be a catalyst for this team, but I still haven’t seen enough from him to cement my opinion.
The best thing I keep telling myself is to reserve judgement and wait and see, but he makes it so damn hard. Frustration at its finest.