“I don’t think he’d like that comparison!”
That was Mikel Arteta’s response when he was asked whether he sees a bit of himself in summer signing Martin Odegaard.
It’s easy to understand why the question was asked. Both moved abroad at a young age to pursue football careers at prestigious clubs (Arteta to PSG and Odegaard to Real Madrid), both played in attacking midfield roles, both have experience playing for Real Sociedad, both made a move to Arsenal.
Despite some obvious parallels, it’s understandable why the boss is keen to avoid unnecessary labels as Odegaard tries to lay down roots in north London.
“He’s Martin,” said Arteta. “He’s an exceptional footballer, he’s still young, he’s got a big gap to develop his game and his leadership skills as well. We are on the way to help him as much as possible to fulfil his potential which I think is really big.”
Ahead of Sunday’s north London derby it was also put to the Spaniard that Odegaard was signed to be the difference-maker in big matches. Having already bagged the winner as a loanee in the same fixture last year, Arteta was inclined to agree.
“First, [we signed him] because he’s a very consistent player and we like the qualities he brings to the team, how he’s around the place. And then, because he can decide football matches and big football matches, he did that last year.”
While Odegaard has already experienced a local derby, albeit without fans, there are a number of players in the Gunners squad who’ve yet to feature in red and white against our neighbours. Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White and Takehiro Tomiyasu are well-placed to start from the off, while Nuno Tavares and Sambi Lokonga could make the bench.
Arteta has promised they’ll be prepared for the blood and thunder of the occasion although he wouldn’t let in on what he specifically plans to say.
“I will do it in the dressing room, the way I normally do things that are a little bit more private,” said the boss.
“Every game, we have to find something to relate to the game and the momentum we are in. Whether it’s a motivational thing, whether it’s something we want to reinforce or pinch players, you have to find all the time that little button.
He added: “It’s a fixture that goes down through history. If you’re able to win and have a big impact on that win, our supporters are not going to forget it. It’s a beautiful thing to be part of.”
Given the fans have waited two years to fill the Emirates for a north London derby, you can be sure the atmosphere will be red hot. Cool heads are going to be needed. Last season, the Gunners picked up more red cards in the Premier League than any other team and often paid a heavy price. Indiscipline is something the boss knows his players need to cut out.
“Obviously, if we do what we did last year and we play four or five games with 10 players then we are going to suffer in this league,” he said.
“It’s something we want to eradicate. We need 11 players on that pitch, that’s 100 per cent sure and we have to play with cool minds and understand what are the limits in the game and what you can and cannot do.”