The Gunners landed their top attacking target in the January transfer window, but how will he fit in to Mikel Arteta’s plans?
It’s a signing that has Mikel Arteta excited.
Arsenal’s manager had a clear priority heading into the transfer window. He wanted a creative midfielder, someone who could come in and share the burden that has been carried almost exclusively by 20-year-old Emile Smith Rowe in recent weeks.
And he has got his man, landing the immensely talented Martin Odegaard on loan from Real Madrid until the end of the season.
“He’s a player that we have followed for some time and we believe he’s got some special qualities that we need,” said a delighted Arteta following confirmation of the capture of the Norway international.
“In the last few seasons, he’s progressed and developed in the right way. I’ve followed him very closely because he played [on loan] for Real Sociedad, which is my hometown club. I know him really well.
“I’ve been really impressed. He’s such a talent. He needs the right environment, he needs a little bit of time but I think he’s got the qualities to be a success for us.”
Odegaard has been a player Arsenal have tracked for many years.
He visited the club’s London Colney training base when he was 15 years old and had a training session with Arsene Wenger’s first-team squad while pondering which top European club to join.
Ultimately, he chose Real Madrid, but now he has finally arrived at north London with the aim of helping Arteta’s side push for a top-four finish in the Premier League.
And his arrival will be a big boost to Arteta ahead of the second half of the campaign, providing the Spaniard with some much needed extra options in the attacking areas.
“He’s a specialist able to play in the pockets, to play in the No.8 or No.10 positions,” Arteta said. “He can play off the sides. He’s a really creative player who’s really comfortable on the ball in tight spaces.
“He has the capacity to create chances and to score goals but something that he has improved a lot is his work rate without the ball as well, so it’s another option to give us more creativity in the final third, and give us more options to set up in different ways against certain teams.”
After switching formations fairly regularly since taking charge at Arsenal, Arteta has settled on a 4-2-3-1 set-up in recent weeks, and the system has brought his side excellent results.
With Mesut Ozil left out of the Premier League squad, a lack of creativity in the central areas was a major issue for the Gunners during the opening months of the campaign, with goals proving difficult to come by.
Defeat at Everton on December 19 left Arsenal 15th in the table, four points off relegation and with a goal tally of just 12 in 14 league games.
The prompted a change from Arteta. Smith Rowe came into the side against Chelsea on Boxing Day, lining up as a No.10 behind the striker, and Arsenal haven’t looked back since.
They have won five and drawn one of their last six league games, scoring 14 goals in the process while conceding just two. They face Manchester United on Saturday evening sitting ninth in the Premier League, just three points off the top six.
Odegaard is not expected to go straight into the starting line-up but could be amongst the substitutes as Arteta eases him into his new surroundings.
Once fully up to speed, the 22-year-old will provide Arteta with another excellent option at No.10, which is his favoured position and the role he performed so impressively while on loan with Sociedad last season.
Odegaard made 31 appearances in La Liga during the 2019-20 campaign, scoring four goals and providing six assists.
Playing behind the forwards, he created 62 chances at an average of 2.2 per 90 minutes and had a passing accuracy of 84.7 per cent.
“Odegaard is a fantastic player,” Arsenal legend Lauren told Goal. “I was watching him when he was at Sociedad and he was just absolutely brilliant.
“He’s a top player who can take the game from the opposition. He’s proven that in La Liga, which is not easy to do.”
There is no doubt that Odegaard is best in a central attacking role where he can get on the ball in space and be that link between the midfield and attack.
He should slot into the 4-2-3-1 formation seamlessly if he gets the nod ahead of Smith Rowe and could provide more of a goal threat than the 20-year-old.
The Norway international had 50 efforts on goal during his time at the Anoeta, averaging 1.78 per 90 minutes, which puts him ahead of Smith Rowe, who has averaged 0.76 shots on goal per game in the Premier League this season.
But Odegaard will provide Arteta with other options than just competing for the No.10 role. Should Arteta want to switch to a 4-3-3 formation, he has the qualities to play as a No.8 in front of the likes of Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka.
He can also operate from the right side of the attack if needed, where he likes to drift inside onto his left foot and showcase his excellent ball carrying qualities, which saw him complete 2.2 dribbles per 90 minutes in La Liga last season.
The option of using Odegaard out wide would allow Arteta to potentially start with both him and Smith Rowe, something the Arsenal boss says is entirely possible.
“Of course, they can play together,” he said “And it is not about pushing somebody else [out of the team]. Emile has earned his right to play the way he is performing – and Martin has to earn that too.
“But Emile cannot play every single game. For example, in the FA Cup he was injured, he could not play. The other day [against Southampton on Tuesday], he could only play certain minutes because he was struggling.
“It has been a massive step for him for what he was doing three, four months ago and what he is doing right now. We need options.”
Odegaard has arrived at a time when Arsenal are playing their best football of the season, which should help him acclimatise to his new surroundings as he will not be expected to hit the ground running and salvage what a few weeks ago was shaping up to be a terrible season.
Arteta has already hinted that he would like to make the loan move permanent in the summer. But, for now, the focus is just on getting the new arrival up to speed as quickly as possible and allowing his considerable talents to help push Arsenal further up the table and closer to the European places.
Odegaard brings quality, creativity and versatility to north London.
His move to Arsenal has been a long time coming, but if he reaches the heights he hit while in San Sebastian last season, he will certainly prove worth the wait.
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