Martin Ødegaard (£6.0m) has arrived in England with much fanfare but can he have an impact on Fantasy Premier League managers this season?
The Norwegian international has joined Arsenal on loan until the end of the campaign after years of hype as a Real Madrid youngster.
Despite becoming the youngest player to ever appear for the senior team at the Bernabéu, things never really worked out for Ødegaard there.
After impressing on loan at Real Sociedad last season, it was thought he would challenge for a place in the Real Madrid team this season, but after making only seven league appearances and failing to impress, he will now spend the rest of the season at the Emirates.
The question now is whether or not he can become a viable FPL asset and, if not, can he boost the appeal of those around him?
In a show of faith, Arteta has handed Ødegaard the number 11 shirt, which once belonged to Mesut Ozil.
“He’s a player that we followed for some time and we believe that he’s got some special qualities that we need, that we have been missing. Now we have to give him a little bit of time. He hasn’t played that many minutes in Madrid, but he’s been training hard and he looks so excited. As are we, to have another big talent at our club.”
“In the last few seasons he’s progressed and developed in the right way. I follow him very closely because he played for Real Sociedad which is my hometown and I know him really well. He’s such a talent. He needs the right environment, a little bit of time, but he’s got the qualities to be a success for us.”
Playing senior football at the tender age of 15, the world seemed to be at the feet of young Ødegaard, who was even called up to the Norwegian national team before his 16th birthday.
Before joining Real, he had his pick of clubs, training with Arsenal, Liverpool and Bayern Munich before making the move to the Spanish capital.
His move to Real at such a young age even made him a social media sensation, with YouTube clips of his skills going viral.
With his diminutive dribbling style and sweet left foot, early comparisons were made between him and a young Lionel Messi.
Being compared to the best player in the world at the age of 15 has not helped Ødegaard, who has struggled to live up to his early hype.
Notice how quickly Mikel Arteta batted away the question when Lionel Messi is mentioned:
I wouldn’t get close to that name you just mentioned (Messi) because it’s a lost battle in my opinion. Martin is Martin.”
After failing to gain a route into a Real Madrid midfield containing Casemiro, Toni Kroos, and Luka Modric, Ødegaard has spent a number of seasons on loan, at clubs like Heerenveen and Real Sociedad.
And it was in Spain last season where he finally caught the eye, producing some of the best attacking numbers in the league.
As mentioned above, Ødegaard is an attacking midfielder with great passing ability who loves to run at defenders.
His breakthrough with Real Sociedad last season saw him play all-but-one game in a number 10 role, scoring seven goals and adding nine assists in all competitions.
Advanced stats from Statsbomb, listed on fbref, show Ødegaard isn’t afraid to let fly from range, shooting 49 times last season from an average distance of 21.3 yards.
But Ødegaard’s real strengths lie in his creative abilities, with the stats suggesting he’d have laid on a lot more than six assists had he been playing in a more prolific team.
The Norwegian played 75 passes throughout the campaign which resulted in a shot on goal for a team-mate.
His dribbling skills were also evident last season, with seven of his runs with ball contributing to an attempt on goal.
He finished the season with the highest amount of dribbles, 63, from the 94 he attempted.
Ødegaard also brings a huge threat from set pieces, taking corners and free kicks at Sociedad.
These numbers paint the picture of Ødegaard as a player who will look to run with the ball and play the final pass to colleagues, but isn’t afraid of taking on the shot himself.
His added threat from set pieces could give him numerous point scoring avenues in FPL if he can claim responsibilities from the current takers.
WHERE WILL HE FIT IN?
From Arteta’s assessment, it does not appear he brought Ødegaard in with a clear idea of the position he will play in, other than in one of Arsenal’s attacking positions.
“He’s a specialist playing in the pockets, to be in the number eight and number 10 positions. He can play on the sides, a really creative player, really comfortable on the ball in tight spaces, the capacity to create chances, to score goals. Something he has improved a lot is his work rate without the ball as well. It’s another option to give us more creativity in the final third.”
Had Ødegaard arrived at the start of the season, then he may well have been thrusted straight into an Arsenal side struggling to score goals.
But since Arteta’s introduction of a group of younger players into the first team, Arsenal have hit a real purple patch of form, beginning with their convincing 3-1 win over Chelsea.
In that time, winger Bukayo Saka (£5.4m) has established himself as one of the best, young attacking players in the league.
Playing mostly off the right-hand side, the 19-year-old has scored three goals and laid on two assists in the last six Gameweeks, cementing his place in Arteta’s first team.
And while the goals are not yet flowing, there are high hopes for Gabriel Martinelli (£4.9m), who Gunners fans will expect to be in and around the team this season.
But the real surprise package of this season for Arsenal has been the emergence of Emile Smith-Rowe (£4.5m), who plays in Ødegaard’s favoured number 10 position.
Smith-Rowe has proven to be Arsenal’s main creative outlets, and has the most assists to his name this season.
Aside from a red-card induced defeat to Wolves, the Gunners’ attack has been in good condition of late. Only league-toppers Manchester City recorded a higher expected goals rating (xG) than the them between Gameweeks 15 and 21.
So, if things are not broken, will Arteta want to rush Ødegaard into the side?
That could depend on Smith Rowe who, since breaking into the team against Chelsea, has started every Premier League game for Arsenal.
That said, the 20-year-old has only completed the full 90 minutes on one occasion, with Arteta hauling him off in six of the eight games he has featured in.
Arteta has even hinted that he would have liked to have been able to rest Smith Rowe more than he has done.
“Emile cannot play every single game, as we knew the other day. For example, in the FA Cup he was injured, he could not play. The other day [against Southampton on Tuesday], he could only play certain minutes because he was struggling for the last minutes. It has been a massive step for him for what he was doing three, four months ago and what he is doing right now. We need options.”
Could this be where Ødegaard fits into the equation? As cover for Smith Rowe?
Either way, it is perhaps too early to expect him to fulfil that role with regularly considering Arteta said ahead of the defeat at Wolves that the loan signing is not quite ready for action yet.
“When you see him training and everyone is pushing to be involved (it’s good). He hasn’t been here long enough (to start yet) and maybe he needs more time.” – Mikel Arteta
Arsenal’s manager has insisted that Smith Rowe is in the team on merit, so there is certainly work for Ødegaard to do.
That is, of course, unless Arteta finds a way to select them in the same team, something he has entertained and refused to rule out whenever questioned about it.
“Of course, they can play together, and it is not about pushing somebody else [out of the team]. Emile has earned his right to play the way he is performing – and Martin has to earn that.”
“(Ødegaard and Smith Rowe) can play together. Good players can play together.” – Mikel Arteta
The two players appear to offer a very similar level of creative to each other, but Ødegaard looks like he carries much more of a goal threat.
Stats taken from since Smith-Rowe broke into the Arsenal team show he has taken five shots in seven starts, with four of those coming in the box.
Gameweeks 15 to 21
These numbers are beaten by fellow attackers Saka, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang (£11.3m) and Nicolas Pépé (£7.7m), who have all played fewer minutes. Even deep-lying centre midfielder Granit Xhaka (£5.2m) has taken on more shots than Smith Rowe.
It appears that Ødegaard’s initial minutes could come in a number 10 role, with Smith Rowe due a rest, and that he could offer Arsenal an added goal threat when deployed in this position.
But if he wants to nail down the number 10 role as his own long-term, then he will have to do a lot to displace Smith Rowe in his current form.
On the face of things, Ødegaard looks like he could turn into a very useful FPL asset.
He combines goal and assist potential, and takes his fair share of set pieces as well.
But the Norwegian may find it hard to secure a place in one of the league’s better attacks, especially considering how settled Arteta currently is on his best front-four.
And although his price of £6.0m appears very accessible, there is an even better bargain close to home.
At just £5.4m, Saka combines both goal threat and assist potential and is already a nailed-on asset for Arsenal. If Ødegaard does come into the team at some point, he could only make the young Englishman a better prospect for Fantasy managers.
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