Real Madrid midfielder Martin Ødegaard is on the verge of completing a loan move to Arsenal for the remainder of the season.
The Norwegian has been struggling for game time at the Bernabeu and is desperate to recapture his promising form that he showcased during a fruitful loan spell at Real Socieded last year.
The young playmaker started Los Blancos’ first two La Liga games of the season after being recalled early in the summer from his two year loan deal in San Sebastián, with the view that he was ready to make the step to become a regular under Zidane, his old Real Madrid B coach.
Yet, the attacking midfielder has featured only once as a starter in a league game since, a 1-1 draw against Villareal at the back end of November.
With Zidane still opting for a midfield three of Kroos, Casemiro and Modric and with the likes of Isco and Asensio providing cover, Ødegaard was not prepared to kick his heels on the bench and instead pushed for a move away to get the regular game time he craves.
The Athletic understands that the player’s preferred destination was a return to Sociedad, where Ødegaard shone last year, not least in helping La Real knock his parent club out of the Copa De Rey in a pulsating 4-3 victory at the Bernabeu last February. Madrid were unwilling to let him go to a direct rival, given Real Sociedad’s fine start to the campaign.
Arsenal emerged as another potential destination given their need to recruit competition in the number ten position for Emile Smith-Rowe. The Englishman has been in fine form since being entrusted with a starting birth against Chelsea on Boxing Day, recording three assists and scoring once in the past five games.
Yet, Smith-Rowe is just 20 and has struggled with injuries in the past and, given the condensed nature of the season with games coming thick and fast, the Gunners sought to find an eligible candidate to ease the burden on the academy graduate.
Ødegaard ticks a number of boxes having been one of the most creative players in Spain’s top flight last season. Only five players created more scoring chances than Ødegaard in La Liga last season, and the 22-year-old also ranked in the top 10 for successful dribbles.
The year before, when he was on loan at Vitesse in the Netherlands, he created more chances than any other player in the Dutch top flight, and finishing third in the assists chart behind Dusan Tadic and Hakim Ziyech.
A call from Arteta, detailing how he will fit in at Arsenal, is reported to have persuaded the player to opt to move to London, which is set to be announced later today after the Norwegian undergoes a medical this afternoon. Arteta is hoping to have him available for the Gunners game against Manchester United on Saturday night.
The deal represents a rather low risk transfer from Arsenal’s perspective, it is a simple six month loan deal, with no option to buy and the Gunners will cover his modest £38,000 salary and pay a poultry £2 million loan fee for the duration of the deal.
They will also be bringing a hugely exciting talent to English shores, six years after the Norwegian had spells training with Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United before opting to sign for Real Madrid.
One should therefore be reminded that it is not long ago since Ødegaard was viewed as one of the most highly sought after youngsters in Europe.
He burst onto the scene in his homeland in April 2014 when he made his debut for Strømsgodset, becoming the youngest player to feature in the Tipperligaen, Norway’s Premier division at 15 years and 118 days. He became the league’s youngest goalscorer just a month later when he found the net in a 4-1 win against Sarpsborg on 16th May.
By the end of the season Ødegaard had scored five goals in 23 league games, in addition to making seven assists, as his side finished fourth. He trained with Real Madrid the following January and they won the race for his signature, announcing his signing at the end of the month.
He initially was put into Real’s B team, Real Madrid Castilla, to help him adapt to his new surroundings, but he regularly trained with the first team, something which caused friction between the player and then boss Zidane.
He made his senior bow for Los Blancos aged just 16 years and 157 days, becoming the club’s youngest debutant. He has since featured just seven more times for the first team, opting to go out on loan, spending three years in Holland, two with Heerenveen and one with Vitesse after a year and a half with Real Madrid Castilla.
He initially struggled at Heereveen and the demands of senior football in a more competitive league. He was in and out of the team and didn’t score his first goal for the club until his 15th appearance, as their president admitted that they were struggling to find his best position.
The following campaign he established himself as a regular and began to show glimpses of what he was capable of. The 2018/19 season at Vitesse was when Ødegaard really stepped up to the plate and thrived in the Eredivise.
He often started on the right wing in a 4-4-2, and under the tutelage of Russian manager Leonid Slutsky, was given the license to be the side’s main attacking outlet. He was often seen dancing past opponents with his quick feet and acceleration before calmly finding the perfect pass or fashioning an opportunity on goal. He ended that season with 8 goals and 11 assists, a healthy return for a 20 year old.
Having proved a point in Holland, Ødegaard was rewarded with another loan spell, (originally agreed to be for two years) at fellow La Liga outfit Real Sociedad and he immediately hit the ground running.
Routinely deployed as an attacking midfielder in a 4-3-3 at San Sebastián, the Norwegian managed 90 minutes in 19 of La Real’s first 21 games last season, putting in a particularly impressive display as a second striker in a 2-0 win over Athletico Madrid.
His mazy runs from midfield, defence-splitting passes and his routinely energetic displays propelled Sociedad into the Champions League places before lockdown hit.
Both his and his club’s form tailed off once football returned, with Sociedad finishing sixth and qualifying for the Europa League. In the 10 games of the season he didn’t play 90 minutes once as he struggled with tendonitis, a problem which has also plagued him recently in Madrid. He ended the campaign with seven goals and nine assists and as one of the standout performers in the league.
Those stats convey just why Ødegaard is frustrated at his lack of opportunities at the Burnabeu and also why Arsenal fans are so excited at his projected arrival. There are some skeptical supporters wary of getting too ahead of themselves, having drawn parallels of Ødegaard’s move with that of Denis Suarez’s two years prior.
The Spaniard, liked Ødegaard arrived with a promising reputation from Real’s rivals Barcelona in January 2019 on a sixth month loan deal to get regular game time before returning to star for his parent club.
It didn’t pan out that way for the now Villareal midfielder, who played just six times over the course of the remainder of the campaign after a pelvic injury in just his second game with the Gunners left him struggling to regain full fitness during the rest of his disappointing spell in North London.
It remains to be seen whether Ødegaard is still affected by that injury, and having not played competitively in two months, patience should be granted upon his arrival as the Norwegian quickly tries to integrate himself to his new teammates and the new league.
Nonetheless, if he can replicate his early season form at Real Sociedad last campaign, he could be the man to really propel Arsenal up the table and deep into the Europa League and may represent a huge coup for the Gunners.