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What's happened to Odegaard? Arsenal's £30m signing struggling to recapture loan form

15:00 BST 29/10/2021
Martin Odegaard, Arsenal 2021-22
The Gunners playmaker has struggled to find his top form since his £30m move from Real Madrid in the summer

Martin Odegaard’s impact at Arsenal last season was huge.

The Norway captain came in and immediately improved a team that was already starting to turn around what had been a miserable first half of the campaign.

Together with Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, Odegaard brought a vibrancy to Arsenal’s attack that had been lacking and added an extra layer of creativity to a side that had struggled to open teams up.

So, it was no surprise that the 22-year-old was Arsenal’s priority target in the summer when it came to bringing in a new playmaker.

There were other options, such as James Maddison at Leicester, but Odegaard was the player Arsenal really wanted. It was just a question of whether Real Madrid were open to doing business, so Arsenal had to bide their time.

For much of the summer it seemed like they would have to look elsewhere, but then, in the final month of the transfer window, Madrid decided to sell and the deal was done, with Arsenal landing their man for £30 million ($41m).

When asked what the arrival of Odegaard on a permanent basis would add to his squad, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said: “A lot of things that he brought last season. 

"He made us better, we needed more options, alternatives, creativity and players that can be morals for this football club. He is still a really young man but he has huge experience in different clubs already. 

“He has a unique talent based on the way we want to play so I'm delighted that the club has made an effort and we have Martin on a permanent deal here.”

Given the ease that Odegaard seemed to settle in during his loan spell, it was expected that the young attacker would hit the ground running following his arrival in August.

However, nearly three months on, Arsenal’s No.8 has struggled to get anywhere near his top form.

In his eight appearances in all competitions so far this season, Odegaard has just one goal and one assist to his name.

The goal was from a direct free-kick, which earned Arsenal three Premier League points at Burnley, while the assist came in the Carabao Cup when a strong Gunners side cruised past West Brom’s youngsters at the Hawthorns.

For a player of Odegaard’s quality, that is a relatively disappointing return considering why he was signed on a permanent basis.

“He came back a little bit late [after the summer break],” Arteta explained, when quizzed on Odegaard’s slow start to the season. "He had an injury in pre-season, so he’s missed some games.

“When he’s played, I think he has done it at a really good level and the numbers can change quickly. But the numbers I don’t think are fair as well, because he’s missed some games.”

Odegaard was left out of the starting line-up for the match against Aston Villa last week, with Alexandre Lacazette brought in to play alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

He was due to start against Leeds United in the Carabao Cup but was forced to sit out Tuesday night's 2-0 success due to injury.

The former Madrid star could return to the squad for the trip to Leicester City on Saturday lunchtime, but it’s likely he will have to make do with a place on the bench again, with Lacazette again expected to line up alongside Aubameyang in the 4-4-2 system that worked so well against Villa.

Arteta will then look to Smith Rowe and Saka to provide the creativity to the forwards, just as they did as Dean Smith’s side were brushed aside last time out in the Premier League.

Odegaard may now have to wait for his chance to get back in and when that chance arrives, the challenge will be to try and replicate the type of form that saw him become such a key player last season.

There is no doubt that his performances have dipped. both in terms of output in the final third and his all-round game.

Odegaard has created just eight chances this season at an average of 1.3 per 90 minutes. That’s way down on last season, when he created 2.24 chances per 90 minutes for Arteta’s side.

During the second half of the 2020-21 campaign, Odegaard was averaging 1.47 shots per 90 minutes, this season that has dropped to just 0.32. 

This fall in output is a trend that stretches across almost all areas. 

Whereas last season Odegaard was averaging 2.45 touches in the opposition box per game for Arsenal, he is now averaging just 0.97. 

And since the start of the current campaign, Arsenal’s big money summer signing has played 18 passes into the box at an average of 2.92 per 90 minutes. Last season, however, he played 99 at an average of 6.92.

And it’s not just around the penalty area where Odegaard’s stats have dropped. His influence on Arsenal’s overall game has dipped dramatically.

This season he is averaging less touches per 90 minutes (59.62 compared to 68.55), less completed dribbles (0.16 compared to 1.47) and has won possession back in the final third less times (0.32 compared to 0.91).

His passing accuracy has also fallen from 90.4 per cent to 86.5% and his duel success has dropped from 50.5% to 33.3%.

When asked whether Odegaard now needs to add more end product to his game, Arteta said: "Absolutely. All the players that are playing in the attacking line have to contribute at the maximum level that is required to achieve the numbers you need to be the best team in the league.

"If you don’t, you won’t get there. It’s just maths.”

It must be noted that at times this season, Odegaard has been asked to operate in a deeper role than usual. Against Burnley and Crystal Palace, he played as part of a three-man midfield as Arteta tried out a 4-3-3 system.

He has also been impacted by the loss of Granit Xhaka to injury in recent weeks, with the Switzerland international usually the man who can find the Norway skipper in space thanks to his ability to split the lines with his passes from deep.

So, there are some mitigating circumstances to his drop off in form, but those have not stopped Smith Rowe from stepping up his game and becoming more of an influence.

The young Englishman has scored three goals in his last six appearances – the same number Odegaard has managed in his Arsenal career to date.

Across almost all areas, Smith Rowe has seen his output improve on what he was producing last season. He is creating more chances per 90 minutes (2.09), completing more dribbles (1.87), having more touches in the opposition box (3.63) and winning more duels (50.7%).

His passing accuracy has jumped from 88.1% to 89.4%, he is winning possession more in the final third (1.21 per 90 minutes) and is averaging 1.67 shots per game, compared to 0.97 last season.

So, while Smith Rowe has taken his performances up a level during the opening months of the 2021-22 campaign, Odegaard has struggled to replicate what he produced during his initial loan spell.

And while Arteta publicly insists he is not concerned about his £30m summer addition, there’s no doubt Arsenal’s manager will want to see more from his playmaker as the crucial festive period approaches.