Martin Odegaard has officially joined Arsenal on loan till the end of the season and will be expected to inject a range of creative qualities into Arteta’s midfield, plus ease the burden on Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka.
Whilst the Hale End graduates have formed an exciting partnership, it would be reckless to expect both to carry on churning out 90s twice-a-week, without risking injury or suffering a dip in form. Adding another quality player will only help freshen up the supply-line whilst pushing Willian further away from the first-team.
At 16, Odegaard had the world at his feet – the Norwegian prodigy had the pick of any club in Europe but couldn’t resist the allure of Real Madrid. Over the following 6 years, he has made just 11 appearances in all competitions for Los Blancos, having been farmed out on loan to the Eredivisie, where he played for both Heerenveen and Vitesse, and last season to Real Sociedad.
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Described by some sections of the Spanish media as a failed Galactico, Odegaard went to Holland tasked with replacing Mason Mount at Vitesse and quickly evolved into one of the division’s finest players, becoming an integral part of Leonid Slutsky’s side – putting up some of the best chance creation numbers in the league.
Last season, back in La Liga, the young midfielder saw his football elevate to new levels at Real Sociedad (36 appearances in all competitions) – where he continued to produce elite attacking output. He ranked 2nd in through balls per game, 3rd in passes into the area and 6th in shot assists per game. He also scored 4 goals, put on 6 assists and was named best Norwegian footballer of 2019.
The young playmaker began his career primarily as a right-midfielder where he spent 72% of his time while playing in Holland. However, the heat-maps below show a player who roamed into central areas of the pitch creating space for his teammates. As he developed, his role evolved, and the Norwegian transitioned into more of a traditional number 10.
Real Sociedad manager Imanol Alguacil played the loanee extensively through the middle, utilising his exceptional spatial awareness and watched on as he shone brightly in the right half-space – accruing 16% (shown below) of his touches on the ball. If juego de posicion is still Arteta’s aim, it makes sense to secure a playmaker highly proficient in tight spaces who boasts extraordinary technique and vision as primary strengths.
Odegaard operates at his optimum when given free range across the final third, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fares in the more dogmatic approach employed by Arteta. The loanee has the ability to attack from both the central and wide channels, as well as dropping deep to help progress the ball and aid the build-up.
In the last five league outings, Arsenal’s shots have increased from 10 to 16 per game, largely due to the introduction of Emile Smith Rowe, but still struggle to unlock low defensive blocks. The arrival of Odegaard should improve the situation further – he’s averaged 2.91 passes into the penalty area per game over the last 3 seasons while Willian (1.76) leads Arsenal with the majority of those passes being generated from spamming crosses.
The image below depicts where and how the Norwegian successfully penetrates the opposition area using a passflow plot. The arrow length is representative of the average pass distance and the brighter colour squares equal a greater frequency of passes. It’s encouraging to see the ‘elbow’ of the area as a hotspot, as well as an expansive range of passes from a player who looks to make something happen from almost everywhere in the opposition half.
A fantastic dribbler (4th in La Liga progressive carries per game and carries into the final third) with a low centre of gravity who excels in receiving and distributing the ball quickly and accurately – Odegaard completed 81% of all attempted passes during 19/20 and made 7.22 progressive passes per game (8th in La Liga) bettering anyone at Arsenal last season.
Finally, having reached the end without mentioning Mesut Ozil, it would be remiss to ignore the stylistic similarities he shares with the incoming Martin Odegaard. Although not a complete playmaker like Ozil, the Norwegian is quicker and a more polished dribbler, even if his passing is not nearly as developed.
Looking at their per 90 metrics across 4 key categories using a beeswarm plot (the beeswarm plot is a one-dimensional scatter plot with no-overlapping points and is used to visualise distributions), right is better. Based on the results I think it’s fair to assume that Martin Odegaard belongs in the delivery service, much like his predecessor.
This is a player of genuine talent and still a lot of untapped potential. Hopefully if the loan move is a success, Arsenal will at least have some form of plan to try and make it permanent.
Welcome to the Arsenal, Martin Odegaard.
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