Soccer

Martin Odegaard Arsenal loan analysis: Norse playmaker would be perfect addition to Mikel Arteta’s side

With little money to spend in the January transfer window Arsenal are close to securing themselves the services of a talented youngster with an impressive track record for the remainder of a season in which avenues remain open for them to qualify for the Champions League. That they have done so at a time when he seemed destined for another club with serious aspirations is all the more impressive.

Though Real Sociedad manager Imanol Alguacil today moved to cool links between his side and Martin Odegaard others close to the deal believed until very recently that it was a matter of time before the Norwegian prodigy returned to the club where he had enjoyed a breakout 2019-20. In that season he had helped take La Real from mid-table to European qualification, won La Liga’s player of the month prize in September 2019 and knocked his parent club out of the Copa del Rey quarter-finals. So successful was he that Madrid opted to bring him back into the fold rather than exercise the options to loan Odegaard to the Basque side for a further year.

Still that return seemed to be in the offing until the intervention of Arsenal, led by manager Mikel Arteta and Odegaard’s fellow Madrid loanee Dani Ceballos. Yesterday he was, as CBS Sports revealed, “tempted”. Today he is closing in on a loan move, one which is not expected to include a purchase option or obligation.

Arsenal would have preferred to have the former in the deal but equally would not want to be tied into any deal that included the latter. Odegaard is a prodigious talent but he is one who has never played in the Premier League before. This is not a deal without risks. It is estimated that loaning the 22-year-old will cost nearly $10million in wages and loan fee, a not inconsiderable sum for a club that took out a Bank of England loan earlier this month to smooth any potential cashflow concerns.

Odegaard will need time to adapt to the Premier League and there are no guarantees that he will find a regular spot with the attacking midfield trio of Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli all in rich form and part of Arsenal and Arteta’s long-term vision. Minutes will be more readily available to him than they were Denis Suarez in the 2018-19 season but if he wants to start regularly he will likely have to usurp a top young talent in prime form.

It is worth emphasising the word likely because there is an argument that signing Odegaard might allow Arteta to gravitate towards his long-term vision for Arsenal more quickly than has previously been the case. It is no secret that their manager wants to implement a 4-3-3 with two ‘eights’ in midfield who are confident playmakers, his own version of the Kevin De Bruyne-David Silva tandem that Pep Guardiola employed when Arteta was his assistant at Manchester City.

Smith Rowe is certainly viewed as a potential eight as well as 10 (much more so than someone who can function as an inside forward from wide) whilst even though Odegaard has generally operated in more advanced roles his time with Real Madrid has at least forced him to familiarise himself with a familiar approach carried out by veteran masters in Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. 

A Thomas Partey-Smith Rowe-Odegaard midfield trio is an intriguing option that Arteta could look to introduce against more inferior opponents over the coming months.

Equally Smith Rowe can’t play every game and as a rival Odegaard has already shown he is able to step up to the creative plate. With Real Sociedad last season he sat among La Liga’s top seven players for chances created,  His output compares favorably not just to his new rival Smith Rowe’s early outings in the Premier League but to the other MO, the man who he is replacing, Mesut Ozil, at least in the German’s latter days.

Chances created per 90

2.17

2.24

2.3

Expected assists per 90

0.24

0.2

0.14

Assists per 90

0.21

0.67

0.12

Goals per 90

0.14

0

0.06

Take ons per 90 3.87 2.46 1.55
Pass completion 84.7% 84% 88.3%
Pass completion in final third 77.2% 78.8% 83.4%
Ball recoveries per 90 5.58 5.6 4.41

What stands out in Odegaard’s favor is his ability to beat players off the dribble, something Smith Rowe has shown flashes of but perhaps not to quite the same extent as the Norwegian, whose YouTube compilations overflow with moments where he beats a man with a quick turn of the feet to get into a position where he can do damage. According to fbref, last season in La Liga he was fourth for carries into the final third and fourth for progressive ball carries (those which move the team either 5 yards up the pitch or into the penalty area). He was also eighth in progressive passes; in other words he is very good at getting his team into dangerous areas.

It has been perhaps the great struggle of Arsenal under Arteta, to get players into the central area just outside the penalty area where they can pick a pass or take a shot. Again, this is something that Smith Rowe has shown flashes of doing early on in his career and the same is true of Odegaard, who created a string of opportunities for Real Sociedad teammates last season from areas just outside the penalty box. 

In particular he seems to thrive on the inside right channel, where many of his take ons come as he drives infield on his left foot. That suggests he might not only ease the burden on Smith Rowe but also Saka, though theoretically Arsenal are well stocked in that position with club record signing Nicolas Pepe and the well-remunerated Willian already on the fringes of Arteta’s side.

Martin Odegaard’s chances created and take-ons in the 2019-20 La Liga season
Opta

Equally this may not work out. By the time Odegaard, who has played just 367 minutes of football in all competitions this season, is up to full speed there may not be much of the season left to be played. Arsenal’s previous dalliances with temporary deals in January – Suarez, Kim Kallstrom, Pablo Mari – have tended not to feature all that often in their loan spells at the club.

If it does Arsenal will have still committed significant funds to a temporary solution but not so much as to inhibit them from making more aggressive moves in the coming summer. If Odegaard does not work out they have done extensive due diligence on the likes of Emiliano Buendia, Houssem Aouar and Marcel Sabitzer.

Equally if he is a success then Arsenal will be well-placed to make a permanent move for a player who would surely be ready to put down roots for the long-term. This is not the same as a loan move for Isco might have been or Suarez was – a clearly temporary salve that would only last until the summer. Consider it instead purchasing an option on a top prospect’s development. Such are the financial difficulties engulfing Real Madrid that they may be forced to try to extract value from talented youngsters such as Odegaard if they are to finance the more ambitious signings that the local press consistently link them with.

There is no such thing as a risk free transfer in football, every deal comes with significant costs attached to it. Considering the price of the gamble this seems a shrewd bit of business by Arsenal.

CBS Research and TruMedia assisted with this article.


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