MARTIN ODEGAARD can become Mesut Ozil with knobs on as he continues to drive the Arsenal revival.
The young Norwegian playmaker arrived at the Emirates on the same day Ozil finally packed his bags for Fenerbahce after having his £350,000-a-week contract paid up.
And his growing influence at the heart of Mikel Arteta’s young team is quickly making Gunners fans forget all about their former idol.
Because not only is Odegaard supplying the defence splitting passes which were once Ozil’s trademark, but he is also putting in the kind of shift which was always beyond his listless predecessor.
This month alone he has been involved in more goals, created most chances and played most through balls than any other Premier League player.
During Sunday’s 5-0 cruise at outclassed Norwich, he set up Arsenal’s first two goals for Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney and was heavily involved in two more.
Arteta could not hide his delight, claiming: “Martin is playing fantastically well.
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“He helps us a lot, he glides the team together and I am really pleased with him.”
And Arteta has good reason to be impressed by Odegaard’s contribution after persisting in his pursuit of a player who didn’t exactly dazzle during his first four months on loan.
One goal and two assists in 20 games last season just about justified the £1.8milliin loan fee which Arsenal had paid Real Madrid for his services last season.
But it was still a shock when the Spanish giants demanded £50million to turn Odegaard’s stay into a permanent one in the summer.
With Arsenal having already splashed out £74m for Ben White, Albert Sambi Lokonga and Nuno Tavares, Real’s asking price was in danger of wrecking Odegaard’s desire to stay in London.
And he was even less convinced to return to the Bernabeu when Carlo Ancelotti was appointed manager.
Because it was Ancelotti who had dismissed Odegaard’s signing as a 'PR exercise' when he first joined them as a 16-year-old in January 2015.
So when the player failed to even make Ancelotti’s squad for the opening games of the new season, Arsenal knew that Real could be open to negotiate.
Encouraged by Arteta, director of football Edu returned with a bid of £30m and the promise of a further £5m in potential bonuses.
And it was only when that offer was accepted that Arsenal gave the green light for Ozil to leave as a free agent.
Ozil had spent eight years at the Emirates yet his contribution had been virtually negligible once Arsene Wenger had been replaced as manager by Unai Emery and then Arteta.
Even during his early time at the club his work-rate and commitment were often called into question and by the end of his stay he wasn’t even included in the squad due to his poor attitude and commitment.
Yet while Ozil had arrived from Real Madrid feeling as though he was doing Arsenal a favour, Odegaard has been a man on a mission with a point to prove to all those people who had written him off.
He was never given an opportunity to prove his worth in Spain and hadn’t exactly ripped up the Premier League during his early loan spell at Arsenal.
But his recent form has more than justified Arteta’s determination to give him such a prominent role in his much talked about project.
Having just turned 23, Odegaard fits perfectly into the ethos of the Premier League’s youngest team which also features the likes of Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Aaron Ramsdale, Kieran Tierney, Gabriel, White, Lonkonga and Tavares.
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When Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was stripped of the captaincy recently, Norway skipper Odegaard was one of the names suggested for promotion to the leadership group.
Now the challenge for Odegaard is to maintain his December form on a long-term basis.
Saturday’s home game against Prem leaders Manchester City will be the perfect opportunity to go toe to toe with the very best.
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