After Arsenal somehow clawed their way back at West Ham to earn a thrilling 3-3 draw in Sunday’s London derby, there was one player in particular taking most of the plaudits.
Martin Odegaard, who has settled in seamlessly since joining on loan from Real Madrid in January, produced arguably his best performance yet in an Arsenal shirt despite a disastrous opening 30 minutes or so from the whole team.
If there was one player who may have felt hard done by if they were hauled off at half-time, it would have been the Norwegian No 10.
Martin Odegaard (right) was instrumental to Arsenal’s thrilling comeback at West Ham on Sunday – he tormented West Ham going forward, while also producing the dirty work
The Gunners – who seemed to be suffering from a European hangover – found themselves 3-0 down inside 32 minutes at the London Stadium but as the first half wore on, Odegaard was beginning to stamp his authority on the game.
Every attack as Arsenal desperately looked to find a way back into the game was going through Odegaard, and after they were given a glimmer of hope, the Norwegian took centre stage.
Unlike their former No 10 Mesut Ozil, especially in the latter stages of his Arsenal career, the 22-year-old took the game by the scruff of the neck both in terms of pressing and going forward.
And following the final whistle, when asked if Odegaard was a ‘leader’ in the dressing room, Mikel Arteta wasn’t shy to sing his praises – replying: ‘Well, he’s showing that I think from week one.
‘The way he steps on the pitch, he always wants the ball, the way he commands the pressing. He’s been really influential.
‘I think we’ve all been a bit surprised because he looks really shy and humble, but when he steps on that pitch he’s a real character and he loves to play football.
Unlike Mesut Ozil, Odegaard took the game by the scruff of the neck for the Gunners
‘I think he was very intelligent the way he read the game, the way he affected the game and again he showed how much he wanted to win.
‘When everyone was a little trembling he gave us that stability and that composure on the ball and he created chance after chance.
‘I love talented and creative players that all the time are willing to take the ball and make that happen, that they are mobile and as well hard working. He is one of them.’
Arteta summed up exactly what every Arsenal fan was thinking after full-time at the London Stadium. It appears they finally have a No 10 on the book who is not only so elegant on the ball, but is willing to put the hard yards in.
Odegaard was chasing everything down, starting Arsenal’s press on West Ham, and urging his team-mates to push up and put pressure on the opposition.
His work-rate was infectious on Sunday, and when your back is against the wall, that is precisely what is needed – especially for an Arsenal team in recent years that crumbles when the going gets tough.
But most importantly, he was brought in temporarily to revive Arsenal’s stuttering attack following a torrid start to the Premier League campaign.
Odegaard was also central to Arsenal’s fortunes against bitter rivals Tottenham on March 14
And on Sunday, Norway’s new captain was at the heart of everything. Throughout the enthralling clash, he was constantly demanding the ball, and his clever movement tormented West Ham.
Odegaard was continuously finding that pocket of space in behind the Hammers’ midfield and all three of Arsenal’s goals came through the Norwegian.
For Arsenal’s opener, Odegaard drifted out to the right before picking up the ball and laying it into the path of Calum Chambers who then fired it into Alexandre Lacazette.
Arsenal’s second again followed a very similar theme, but this was perhaps the goal Odegaard had most impact in.
Again, the Norwegian received the ball just outside West Ham’s penalty area after driving into the empty space past the Hammers midfield, before producing a lovely weighted pass into the path of Chambers again, whose cross deflected off Craig Dawson into the net.
And Arsenal’s third was a carbon copy of their opening two goals. Odegaard turned on the edge of the West Ham box before putting in Nicolas Pepe down the right, who produced a brilliant cross for Lacazette to head home.
It was that willingness from Odegaard to always get on the ball, and his spatial awareness that drove Arsenal forward and moved them up a gear.
Without him on the pitch, Arsenal in all likeliness wouldn’t have dragged themselves off the canvas to rescue a point.
Mikel Arteta had been crying out for that magic, and is desperate to buy him from Real Madrid
After a settling-in period in north London, the Real Madrid loanee has quickly got going and has fitted perfectly into Arsenal’s midfield.
For many loan players, they find it tough to settle in knowing that their future is up in the air. But not Odegaard.
The left-footed star has shown he has the all-round game that could prove influential to Arsenal’s fortunes going forward – grabbing the odd goal, providing the magic in midfield while doing the dirty work in defence.
Ozil’s biggest downfall at the Emirates was his attitude, with his character being questioned regularly as he fell down the pecking order both under Unai Emery and then Arteta.
Yes the German was as elegant as ever on the ball and Arsenal’s attack was better with him in the starting line-up, but off it, he wasn’t up to the standards required.
Especially in the Premier League the game will pass you by if you’re not willing to put yourself about and ultimately this decided Ozil’s fate as he endured an underwhelming end to his Gunners career – with his last appearance coming in March 2020 pre-pandemic.
The hard truth is that Ozil failed to live up to expectations because of his character, but in Odegaard – while it is very early days still – Arsenal look like they have a player who can hold his own both with and without the ball.
Arsenal will be hoping Norway’s new captain is surplus to requirements at Real Madrid
But the biggest issue the Gunners face is Real Madrid. As ever with loan signings, it’s that heartbreak at the end of the arrangement that looms large.
The better Odegaard plays in England, the more likely Madrid will want to keep the Norwegian on their books.
How Martin Odegaard’s key stats look so far for Arsenal, according to SofaScore
Madrid’s squad is ageing, especially in midfield with the likes of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos not getting any younger, and with his whole career ahead of him still, Odegaard could be the future for Los Blancos.
But if Zinedine Zidane remains manager in the Spanish capital, that could be to Arsenal’s advantage. Odegaard has struggled to win the trust of the Frenchman and if he stays it’s hard to see that changing anytime soon.
So much depends on Zidane’s future. Odegaard is loving life in London and thriving off being central to Arsenal’s plans, and if Madrid are not going to provide this luxury, then it’s difficult seeing him staying in Spain.
From Arsenal’s point of view it’s a no-brainer to get Odegaard in permanently to lead the club forward into a new era.
But for now, they will be praying he is surplus to requirements in Madrid and that their financial demands aren’t too hefty.