In Focus: Gunners paying an Ode to marvellous Martin
Premier League leaders Arsenal are breaking new ground under Mikel Arteta this season, with their skipper Martin Odegaard spearheading the charge.
The Norwegian ace, 24, netted his eighth goal of the season when firing a long-range strike into the bottom corner to help down Tottenham last Sunday.
With the Gunners now holding an eight-point lead in the title race, it is looking increasingly likely that Odegaard will be the man lifting the famous trophy aloft this May.
Ahead of a crunch clash with fellow high-fliers Manchester United this Sunday, we take a closer look at the creative midfielder’s impressive rise.
It is hard to believe Odegaard is still in the early stages of his career considering his name has been in the public eye since 2014.
Already training with the first team of Stromsgodset in his homeland as a 13-year-old, the Drammen-born prodigy had made his senior club and national debuts before his 16th birthday.
Those accolades did not go unnoticed, with the starlet invited to training stints at Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal — though he would eventually head for Spanish shores.
Real Madrid completed a £2.6million deal to bring the wonderkid to the Bernabeu in January 2015 and he would become the LaLiga giants’ youngest ever debutant four months later.
Ultimately, though, his Madrid stint ended up being one of frustration.
Loan spells with Heerenveen, Vitesse and Real Sociedad still left Los Blancos chiefs unconvinced and by January 2021, he was headed for North London.
Odegaard’s initial half-season loan switch to Arsenal came at a time when things were not looking quite as rosy as they are now.
The Gunners were planted firmly in the realms of mid-table having lost eight of their opening 20 fixtures, but the new arrival was a strong believer in the manager’s vision.
Upon joining, he said: "I spoke to him [Arteta] before coming here, of course.
"That was very important for me and he seems like a top manager and I liked his ideas, the way he sees football and also the way he is.
"He gave me a great feeling and that was important for me to come here. He was crucial."
Introduced at the heart of Arsenal’s midfield, Odegaard helped the Gunners to an eighth-placed finish with his 14 top-flight outings resulting in seven wins, three draws and four defeats.
That prompted the Gunners to move swiftly that summer to make his move permanent for a fee around the £30m mark.
Clearly, the opportunity of a fresh start in a settled environment has brought the very best out of Odegaard.
Last term, he was an ever-present after his August arrival, notching seven goals and laying on four assists in 36 Premier League appearances as the Gunners agonisingly missed out on a top-four finish on the season’s final day.
This season, he has taken things to a whole new level.
In 17 top-flight outings, the 24-year-old has scored eight times and set up five more, including a mesmerising run of 10 direct goal involvements in his last 10 games.
Out of the entire Premier League, Odegaard ranks second for possessions won in the attacking third (21), fifth for big chances created (10) and ninth for final third passes completed (268).
As far as a creative force goes, the No8 is now rubbing shoulders with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Bruno Fernandes — and arguably even outshining them.
More to come
Such form has naturally gone down well with Gunners boss Arteta, though the Spaniard insists the best is yet to come from his captain.
Speaking last month, Arteta said: "I was hoping that Martin could show the talent that he has. His attitude, his willingness to learn and his application is always incredible.
"He can be much better. I think physically he can still improve in many areas. 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."
Coming of age
Odegaard’s performance against Tottenham perfectly encapsulated the influential figure he has become at the Emirates.
His now trademark clever movement, penetrative passing and devastating finishing all contributed to him scooping the latest Premier League Player of the Month award.
If the 47-cap international can maintain this run of form for the remainder of the domestic campaign, he will assure himself of a place in Gunners folklore.
Though it has taken longer than initially anticipated, the footballing world now fully understands the Odegaard hype.