Football News

Martin Odegaard: Arsenal’s new Cesc Fabregas sends them seven points clear at Premier League summit

By Harry Edwards

Published: 19:28, 31 December 2022

At the start of the season, many predicted a Norwegian would be integral to the Premier League title race, and Martin Odegaard was on form once again to help put Arsenal seven points clear at the top of the table.

When Arsenal first signed Odegaard on loan from Real Madrid in January 2021, the Norwegian perhaps still had something to prove to the wider footballing fanbase who hadn’t seen his revival at Real Sociedad and only viewed him as a Los Blancos flop.

It was a fairly slow start to life at Arsenal in terms of goals and assists, but Odegaard was showing glimpses of the quality fans knew he had, and he did enough to persuade Arsenal to sign him on a permanent basis. Last season he really grew into himself at Arsenal and as well as creating 77 chances across the campaign — the fourth-highest tally in the Premier League — Odegaard recorded four assists and scored seven goals, while also taking over as Gunners captain.

Over the summer, he was overshadowed on the Norwegian front by Erling Haaland, who joined Manchester City and was backed to be the difference-maker in the Premier League title race this season. He’s fulfilling his part of the bargain, scoring his 21st league goal of the season on Saturday, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing as Man City were held to a 1-1 draw by Everton.

That draw gave Arsenal the opportunity to go into 2023 seven points clear at the top of the table, and it’s one they grasped with both hands. Brighton could have been a tricky tie for Arsenal, having already beaten the Gunners in the third round of the EFL Cup, but it took less than two minutes for Bukayo Saka to give the away side the lead.

It was 2-0 before half-time with Odegaard converting a wonderful finish, bouncing the ball into the ground to evade defenders and goalkeeper, for his seventh Premier League goal of the season.

“We wax lyrical about Saka but this guy for me is exceptional,” former Brighton striker Glenn Murray said of Odegaard at half-time.

“His passing, the weight of pass, everything he does is just pure quality.”

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Seven goals in the Premier League, Odegaard has already levelled his tally for last season in 21 fewer games, but in the second half his expert passing took centre stage. With the score at 3-1 after goals from Eddie Nketiah and Kaoru Mitoma, Odegaard unleashed Gabriel Martinelli with an excellent first-time pass into space which beat three Brighton defenders. The Brazilian still had some work to do, and nothing should be taken away from his run and finish, but Odegaard’s vision to see the pass and the ability to execute it first time on the spin was out of this world.

It was Odegaard’s fifth Premier League assist of the season, already bettering his tally of four from 2022/23, and now only Kevin De Bruyne (nine) and Saka (six) have provided more. With the performances Odegaard has been putting in, it’s no surprise Arsene Wenger was in the race to sign him when he was just breaking through at Stromgodset. And the former Gunners boss recently compared him to an ex-Arsenal captain.

“It was difficult [trying to convince Odegaard to sign for Arsenal],” Wenger told Norwegian outlet TV2.

“I talked to him when he was 15 years old. I actually spoke with him about it after the game on Boxing Day. I was desperate to sign him. Luckily he is here now. He is really like a young Cesc Fabregas. I think he has developed to become a complete player.

“He is a calm player that analyses the game well. He has his feet well planted on the ground. I don’t want to say exactly what I talked about with Martin. I am super impressed. He is really a down to earth and nice guy. The way he analyses the game.”