How can Martin Odegaard improve Arsenal?

By Sports Desk January 27, 2021

Martin Odegaard's Real Madrid career was being set up to fail right from the start, when he joined the club just over a month after his 16th birthday back in January 2015.

The fact he remains their player six years on is testament to the Norwegian's talent, persistence and level-headed attitude, as his first couple of years at the club seemingly had people willing him to fade into obscurity.

From unnecessary speculation relating to his wages and exaggerated suggestions that his presence threatened the future of Madrid's academy, to murmurings that his arrival upset the harmony of Real Madrid Castilla's squad – life wasn't made easy for him early on.

For the most part he has managed to keep his career on track and has shown why he was so highly rated as a 15-year-old bursting on to the scene at Stromsgodset, impressing in a series of loan spells, but Odegaard now has another challenge in front of him.

He joins Arsenal on loan for the rest of the season in a move that will surely shape the next major step he takes in his career, whether that is kicking on at Real Madrid or moving elsewhere permanently.

While first-team football has been difficult to come by at Madrid this term, it's easy to see why Arsenal made their move for the attacking midfielder.

A REAL GEM

If there are any Arsenal fans questioning why they have moved for a player who has made just three starts for a – let's be frank – unspectacular Madrid side this season, it's worth recalling the amount of talent Zinedine Zidane has struggled to incorporate and subsequently discarded in recent years.

Marcos Llorente, Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Reguilon, Theo Hernandez, James Rodriguez – you could potentially even add Isco to that list in the not-too-distant future. All are fine players generally thriving elsewhere, but Zidane was seemingly unconvinced by them.

Injuries haven't helped Odegaard's cause this term, but his form with Real Sociedad on loan last season demonstrated just how impressive he is when given consistent opportunities – and it was revealed in July that he had been suffering with a chronic knee issue for most of 2019-20.

The 22-year-old created 62 chances in LaLiga last term, a tally only beaten by five other players, one of which was predictably Lionel Messi. 

 

That gave him a key pass frequency just under 0.5 every 90 minutes, which again ranked very highly among players with more than 30 chances created – six had better records, though his 6.8 xA (expected assists) rating was third only to Messi and Jesus Navas.

He also offers a great threat from set-pieces, with 27 of his key passes coming from dead-ball situations. This is an area Arsenal have struggled, as their 20 chances created from set plays is the fourth-fewest in the Premier League this term.

Odegaard was a major catalyst for La Real's largely impressive campaign, as they reached the Copa del Rey final – which is still due to be contested later this year – and finished sixth in LaLiga.

Arsenal fans will hope he can have a similar impact in the second half of the 2020-21 season, particularly given their lack of creativity at times this term.

WHERE WILL HE STRENGTHEN ARSENAL?

At La Real, Odegaard was often deployed from the right side of the attack in a 4-3-3, but given he is most comfortable on his left foot, he would routinely cut inside and wreak havoc in the middle.

 

While he spent more time on the right flank, with 38.3 per cent of his touches occurring in the right third of the pitch between the halfway line and the edge of the opposing area, much of his best work was carried out more centrally.

Indeed, 31.1 per cent of his key passes and assists came from the middle third of the pitch just outside the box.

 

Arsenal have been much less active centrally and on the right flank, with just under 12 per cent of their assists and chances created stemming from play in the middle of the attacking half. They aren't much more effective on the right, which will likely not come as a surprise to Gunners fans given the largely underwhelming form of Willian and Nicolas Pepe.

 

Odegaard's display in the September 2019 defeat at Sevilla was something of a microcosm of much of what he was good at last season, with his late assist for Portu seeing him come in off the right and play a disguised pass into the right side of the box for his team-mate to finish. Earlier on, he had taken up possession in a central area and sliced open the Sevilla backline only for Willian Jose to skew wide.

In both situations he showed great poise, a trait he has combined with his wonderful ability on the ball, as demonstrated by the fact he played 19 key passes after ball carries – Messi (30) had the most and was one of only five players to better the Norwegian in this area.

 

THE RISK OF SHORT-TERM LOANS

The addition of Odegaard will add some welcome creativity to Mikel Arteta's squad, the Gunners having managed 23 goals from 230 attempts (excluding penalties) - slightly below their 25.2 xG - so far in what has been a topsy-turvy 2020-21 season. 

Arsenal players have collectively created 26 Opta-defined "big chances", well adrift of the league-high 43 recorded by Manchester City in 2020-21. While this only includes shots that have been specifically assisted by a pass, it does highlight a creative deficiency.

 

Emile Smith Rowe has impressed of late, contributing three assists in open play, but no individual has created more chances for them in the Premier League than Bukayo Saka, his total of 23 putting him one above Kieran Tierney. It is clear they need greater threat in central areas, and Odegaard should offer that.

But, while he is undoubtedly a fine talent, Arsenal fans should be wary and patient – Odegaard hasn't featured regularly this season so cannot be expected to be sharp, and this move is another instance of upheaval in a fairly short period of time after leaving La Real for a return to Madrid. It would unfair to assume he will find his stride immediately.

Short-term loans in the second half of a season are often risky and Odegaard will likely take a little while to get up to speed. If he adapts quickly, his arrival could be a masterstroke – but if he doesn't it could be a wasted few months for both parties.

Arsenal will hope he's not another Denis Suarez.

Related items

  • Chelsea boss Tuchel surprised by controversy: It wasn't a penalty Chelsea boss Tuchel surprised by controversy: It wasn't a penalty

    Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said he is "surprised" at the reaction to Manchester United not being awarded a penalty in Sunday's scoreless Premier League draw.

    United were left aggrieved following the denial of a first-half spot-kick as Chelsea and the visiting Red Devils produced a 0-0 stalemate at Stamford Bridge.

    In the first half, referee Stuart Attwell checked on the pitchside monitor to see if a penalty should have been awarded to United when a bouncing ball struck the raised hand of Callum Hudson-Odoi, who was tussling with Mason Greenwood.

    Attwell stuck with his initial decision not to give the spot-kick and, much to the frustration of United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and full-back Luke Shaw.

    Afterwards, Tuchel – just the second manager to see his side keep a clean sheet in his first four home matches in the Premier League after Brendan Rodgers with Swansea City in 2011-12 – told reporters: "For me it was no penalty. I was surprised and I'm still surprised [at the reaction].

    "I didn't see it live where the penalty should come from, and when we checked on the pictures we have I couldn't see any incident that should qualify as a penalty. Until now I don't know why it should be a penalty."

    It was another 0-0 affair between Chelsea and United – both matches in a league season failing to yield goals for just the second time after 1921-22.

    Chelsea are unbeaten since Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard – the Blues in the midst of a 10-match undefeated streak across all competitions.

    Tuchel's Chelsea are fifth in the Premier League, one point adrift of the top four, six points behind second-placed United and 18 adrift of runaway leaders Manchester City through 26 rounds.

    "It would have been a big result. We tried everything to win, to be prepared for no other intention but to win," Tuchel said. "We are in the middle of a battle to the top four.

    "We have closed the gap quickly and now is the moment to hang in and to show performances every three or four days.

    "I feel the team is very competitive and difficult to play against. We will be able to win games. We are still in the battle and that's the good news."

  • Morikawa follows in Tiger's footsteps with WGC-Workday Championship title Morikawa follows in Tiger's footsteps with WGC-Workday Championship title

    Collin Morikawa added the WGC-Workday Championship to his growing list of achievements after triumphing by three strokes.

    Winner of last year's U.S. PGA Championship, Morikawa used a three-under-par 69 to seal victory at the star-studded World Golf Championships event in Florida ahead of Viktor Hovland, Brooks Koepka and Billy Horschel on Sunday.

    Morikawa holed four birdies and just one bogey to finish 18 under for his fourth PGA Tour crown – the most by any player currently aged under 25.

    He also joins Tiger Woods as the only player to win a major championship and WGC event before turning 25.

    Further to that feat, Morikawa is the seventh player to claim four or more PGA Tour tournaments – including a major – under the age of 25, following in the footsteps of Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Jerry Pate.

    The overnight leader by two strokes, Morikawa recovered from a slow start after bogeying his second hole of the final round – the 24-year-old American birdieing three of five holes before the turn as he ended the day without dropping another shot.

    Norwegian star Hovland mounted a serious title charge following a five-under par 67, but he was unable to stop Morikawa.

    Hovland finished tied for second alongside four-time major champion Koepka (70) and Horschel (70) at The Concession Golf Club.

    McIlroy's final-round 71 saw the former world number one and four-time major winner slip down into a tie for sixth, six strokes adrift of Morikawa.

    Defending champion Patrick Reed (72) ended the co-sanctioned PGA and European Tour tournament a shot further back.

    Justin Thomas (71) earned a share of 15th at eight under, a stroke better off than U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau (69).

    It was a forgettable finish for world number one Dustin Johnson, who closed proceedings with a six-over-par 78.

    The two-time tournament winner plummeted 12 positions to T54 at five over the card.

  • Aguero to be managed closely as Guardiola hails seemingly outgoing Garcia Aguero to be managed closely as Guardiola hails seemingly outgoing Garcia

    Pep Guardiola will manage Sergio Aguero carefully, as he explained the difficulties of keeping each player in his Manchester City squad satisfied.

    City made it 20 successive wins in all competitions on Saturday, as they edged past West Ham 2-1 in the Premier League thanks to goals from defenders Ruben Dias and John Stones.

    Aguero made just his fourth start of the season in total – and his first since October – with the City great, who is out of contract at the end of 2020-21, having struggled with injuries through the course of the campaign.

    The 32-year-old failed to have an attempt and created just one chance before he was taken off in the 61st minute, having had 32 touches – less than any other outfield player to have started the game for City.

    Guardiola, however, insisted Aguero will need time to pick up his sharpness, though the striker's minutes will have to be managed precisely. 

    "Sergio has been out for more than a year, he played cup games but got injured again, then it was surgery," Guardiola told a news conference.

    "With Sergio, at this part of this season, having that special talent and special quality is going to help.

    "So it's good that he played 60 minutes, that's good for his legs. In the next games, we might need him for 10, 15 minutes or from the beginning. 

    "It's not easy for him but he just has to play better and better and he can help us in the sense of his ability."

    Guardiola concedes Aguero wants to play more, but reiterated that he has to balance his squad, namechecking Eric Garcia, whose stay at City is set to end at the culmination of the campaign.

    Barcelona have been heavily linked with a move for the 20-year-old, who ended last season as the club's first-choice centre-back alongside Aymeric Laporte.

    Garcia has made just three league appearances this season, and last featured for City in an FA Cup win over Swansea City in early February.

    "There are other players who want to play too, so I know Sergio is so important for us. What he has done for this club – he has scored the most important goal for us," Guardiola continued.

    "We want to help him and see him good but, at the same time, Raheem [Sterling] didn't start, Phil [Foden], Bernardo [Silva] didn't. So I try to handle it so everyone can be involved.

    "You cannot imagine how I feel about Eric Garcia, he's like a son. Last season, during lockdown he was the best defender that we had.

    "He'd never make a mistake like Ruben, John and Aymeric have not this season. He was the reason we qualified for the Champions League, clubs like Bayern and Barcelona wanted him and that's not because he was an average player.

    "In the last two games he was not selected, that's why it's difficult to put all of the players in. Players have to be patient and at the end all you judge is the performance. If the players are performing well they will have more chance to play again."

    Asked if sentiment will come into play with Aguero's game time as his time at City potentially draws to a close, Guardiola replied: "From day one, my message here is what happened before is over – we learn from this and onto the next one.

    "It's not just for Sergio, it's for everyone. I think about who is best in this position, who is in the best condition. If I am fair to one player, I am unfair to another one, that is the difficulty.

    "Now it's for him to prepare if we need him, at the end there will be games that are tough and difficult and we will need a goal! Who is the best guy to do that – it's him.

    "Every player needs time, especially him but everyone needs time. We have trophies to fight for, soon we'll be going to Goodison Park for a quarter-final, the second leg of the Champions League. 

    "Many nice things to fight for and everyone needs to be ready."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.