It’s official: Martin Ødegaard has joined Arsenal on loan from Real Madrid for the rest of the season. The 22-year old Norwegian should be a great add for the Gunners. He is a skilled progressive dribbler (particularly in tight spaces), a strong passer, and an adept high-presser. Ødegaard will wear #11 at Arsenal, currently unused because of Lucas Torreira’s loan to Atlético Madrid.
There’s already been plenty written on what he brings to the Gunners, including from Tony on this very website last week. The Athletic and CBS Sports each compiled stats and data analysis on the youngster — I’ve sifted through it to bring you the best bits. I’d encourage you to read both linked pieces, as well. They’re good work.
Martin Ødegaard in LaLiga during the 2019-20 season:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 22, 2021
◉ Most possession won in the final ⅓
◎ 2nd-most through balls
◎ 3rd-most passes into the box
◎ 3rd-most xA
◎ 6th-most chances created@CJSmith91 looks at whether he's the right answer to Mikel Arteta's question...
Pretty impressive boxcars. Okay so those stats might be a bit beyond boxcars, but the “Penalty Area Entries” and “Through-Balls Attempted” jump off the page at me. Those two things are desperately lacking at Arsenal, the through balls in particular. I would bet that Emile Smith Rowe becoming a lineup fixture has improved Arsenal’s overall penalty area entries, but Ødegaard will boost that further. They are slightly different players, too. Emile Smith Rowe moves the ball up the pitch with combination play, passing, movement, and getting it back. Ødegaard is more likely to dribble his man then hit a longer pass between the next two defenders in front of him.
Back to through-balls — they’re an under-utilized attacking option for the Gunners, which is a bit surprising given Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s pace off the left, Gabriel Martinelli’s incessant movement up front, and Bukayo Saka’s intelligent runs from the right. Arsenal have the pieces, but nobody to put the puzzle together. Ødegaard could provide that; he should add an additional, dangerous element to the attack.
The Athletic’s piece on Ødegaard focused on his abilities as a creative playmaker. In sum, he’s a talented one. Last season at Real Sociedad, he managed 4.1 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes, which put him in the top 10 in La Liga. He helps create those shots by carrying and passing the ball up the pitch, both of which he did at a rate that placed him well within the top 10 in Spain. He also creates offense by being an effective presser, although according to the article, he does that more through positioning and closing down, i.e. being a meaningful contributor to team pressing, than through actually winning the ball back himself a la what we’ve seen from Thomas Partey.
The main takeaway from CBS Sports’ write-up is that Ødegaard should help Arsenal get the ball into dangerous attacking positions, particularly by beating opponents on the dribble. Successful take-ons are incredibly important to attacking success. Beating your man unbalances the defense and opens up space into which other players can move. As I previously noted, Arsenal have no shortage of players who will move into that space from wide areas — Martinelli, Aubameyang, Saka, and even both fullbacks. What the club has lacked this season is a player who will do things to open up those spaces to start moves.
A note: Ødegaard likes to play from the inside right, so Mikel Arteta will have some squad selection questions to sort out. We may see Arsenal move back towards a 4-2-3-1, even though most think Mikel Arteta would prefer to play a 4-3-3. But those are good problems to have. At the very least, Ødegaard provides much needed attacking depth. We’ve seen the drop-off in the Arsenal attack when just a handful of guys are rotated, although Nicolas Pépé’s strong performance against Southampton and Alexandre Lacazette’s strong run of scoring form slightly eases that particular concern. Still, Emile Smith Rowe was the only central, creative attacking “engine” if you will at the club. He isn’t anymore, and that’s a significant improvement.
Getting Martin Ødegaard on loan makes Arsenal better. That’s no small feat in a January window in the best of times. Add tight finances and other COVID-related issues and the move looks quite the savvy piece of business. It’s a straight loan with no option to buy, which isn’t the best for a variety of reasons, but it’s probably the best Arsenal can manage right now. It’s a low-risk, high-reward move.
And I wouldn’t underestimate the positive effect that Ødegaard potentially excelling and developing in North London these next few months would have on facilitating a permanent transfer in the summer. Players have power and what they want is more influential than ever in shaping and forcing transfers.
Two more little things. The alt-code for “Ø” is 0216 and this: