Happy Thursday to you all.
It seems a bit mad to think about it now, but that period earlier in the season when Martin Odegaard was on the bench for a few weeks sparked actual conversations about how he might get back into the team. After the 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace that came after an Interlull, Mikel Arteta decided to start Alexandre Lacazette for the next game, the 3-1 win over Aston Villa.
The Frenchman started each of the next three, which brought wins against Leicester and Watford and defeat to Liverpool at Anfield. However, I think it was telling that in each game, Odegaard replaced Lacazette from the bench. In the 68th minute against Villa; the 58th minute against Leicester; 69th against Watford; and 67th against Liverpool.
Since then, he’s been a first name on the team sheet kind of player, and obviously the departure of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang meant that Lacazette was needed up front rather than in a deeper role behind the striker. I don’t think it was ever going to be a long-term problem for Odegaard. He’d lost a little form, perhaps there was an injury issue we weren’t really aware of, and it’s not as if Lacazette’s performances in that role were so good he threatened to keep his place.
The Norwegian gave an interesting interview last week, between the Chelsea and Man Utd games, in which he spoke about the room for improvement he feels he can make, saying:
My game is about creating chances and to help the team to flow in the game, to create things, especially in the last third. Sometimes I have to a bit drop deeper to connect the defence and the attack but it’s mainly about creating things. That’s the part of the game where I want to improve even more, be more decisive, score more goals, get more assists and help the team to win games.
I know it’s still very early days, and you can’t really draw direct comparisons between players, but he reminds me of certain guys from our past who arrived at Arsenal with something to prove to the football world. I’m not talking about their specific qualities as players, but the circumstances.
Thierry Henry, World Cup winner in 1998, highly rated winger who moved to Italy and found himself floundering at Juventus. Dennis Bergkamp, Ajax genius who went to Inter Milan and found it hard. “It is difficult to see the beauty of the Italian League,” he said, his attacking instincts stifled by system, and if there was ever the perfect example of the wrong player at the wrong club at the wrong time, then Bergkamp and Inter is surely it. Even guys like Marc Overmars and Kanu whose injury/medical histories raised big doubts about their ability to do it at the top level. They came to Arsenal and flourished.
There are shades of that in Odegaard. Snapped up by Real Madrid at the age of 15 when there were big clubs across Europe, including us, all keen to sign him. I mean, you can’t fault the ambition, can you? However, it’s a unique club in terms of how it stockpiles stars and talent, so it’s always going to be tough to break through. He had good loan spells at Herenveen, Vitesse and Real Sociedad (where Sid Lowe described him as the most in-form midfielder in La Liga that season), but he remained tethered to the Bernebeu.
Even last season during his loan spell with us there were games where his talent and character shone through (West Ham away a great example), but others where he couldn’t quite produce. To be fair, he carried an injury through the second half of his loan spell after a bad ankle twist on international duty, but many fans don’t particularly care about those things – especially when a player is out there on the pitch. There’s an assumption that availability = 100% fitness when it’s very often not the case.
This season there’s no doubt that we’re seeing the emergence of the real Martin Odegaard, as opposed to the Real Martin Odegaard if you will. There is genuine clarity to his career now. He’s an important player for Arsenal right now and in the future; he’s settled in London and can see a path for progression on an individual level and as part of this collective; and it’s clear he’s someone in whom the manager has a lot of trust. See his responsibility to communicate Chelsea’s set-up to Arteta last week at Stamford Bridge.
More and more I think he’s a candidate to become the new club captain next season too. I love Kieran Tierney as much as the next man, but availability could be seen as an issue. It might still be the Scotsman but if it is, I bet you any money Odegaard will be his vice-captain – in a kind of Arteta/Mertesacker set-up, harking back to the manager’s playing days. In the coming weeks, the whole team is going to be tested as we continue this fight for a top four finish, but if Odegaard can continue his recent form and those ahead of him can put the chances away, he could well be the key to Champions League next season.
For more on him and his grounding/development as a young player, check out Amy’s excellent piece in the The Athletic.
Finally for today, you might have seen yesterday that we announced a special (almost) end of season live podcast event, a crossover with our friends from the Arsenal Vision podcast.
SAT May 21st. Arsecast Extra & Arsenal Vision LIVE @ Union Chapel.
Tix on sale to Patreon members at 5pm today.
Tix on general sale tomorrow 5pm @ £15.
— arseblog (@arseblog) April 27, 2022
We gave our Patreon subscribers first dibs on tickets, and there was a phenomenal response, so thank you so much to everyone who got involved there. There are more tickets today going on general sale today at 5pm. The link you need, which won’t be live until that time, is: https://tickets.lnk.to/Arsecast
We’re keeping everything crossed that the results in the next couple of weeks will make this a very good mood event, but either way we’ll be there for Arsenal chat, audience Q&A, some prizes, and maybe a guest or two if we can swing it. Hope to see some of you there!
Right, that’s it for this morning. Back tomorrow with more, including a brand new Arsecast. Until then.