When Martin Odegaard joined Arsenal last month the obvious comparisons with Meust Ozil were almost immediately drawn.
Two creative playmakers with the initials M.O. making the journey from Madrid to London.
The similarities were so obvious it almost became lazy to mention them.
But on his first European start for the Gunners the Norwegian international began to show why the footballing reasons are just as important as the superficial ones in drawing a likeness between the two.
In his seven and a half year stay in North London, Mesut Ozil made a name for himself as someone to spot passes that no one could see, constantly wrongfooting cameramen with his unparalleled vision.
In Arsenal’s Europa League Round of 32 first leg tie Odegaard began to show signs that he is more than ready to take on that mantle.
An eye of the needle pass to Cedric in the build up to Bukayo Saka‘s crucial equaliser could easily go down as one of the most important moments of the Gunners’ season if they go on to be successful in the competition.
“That’s a miracle pass!” said a gushing Martin Keown of the pass in the BT studio. “That’s his vision.”
This was not a one off though. A pass impossible to see let alone play to Saka in the first half would have had fans in the Stadio Olimpico off there seats if there were any there to see it, while he was unlucky not to pick up an assist after a delicate through ball to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang midway through the second period.
Odegaard ended the night with two key balls and more completed passes than any other player in the opposition half. These were stats that his predecessor would have been proud of.
But speaking before the game it was not the Norwegian’s creative play that Mikel Arteta felt the need to comment as the most impressive part of his game.
“Really nice guy, the players like him, the staff like him, easy going, really hard worker and I’ve been very impressed with his leadership,” said the Gunner’s boss.
“He looks a little bit calm and reserved but on the pitch he’s got something about him and I’ve been really impressed with him.
“When I talk about leadership as well it’s how he talks to his teammates, how he commands, for example, the high press, and then the personality he shows.”
It’s this defensive aspect to his game that sets Odegaard apart from Ozil in comparisons between the pair.
Against Benfica the Norwegian made more tackles than any other player on the pitch, while winning 75% of his defensive duels, managing one interception and making three ball recoveries in the opposition half.
By way of comparison on his last European start for Arsenal as they crashed out against Olympiacos at this stage of the Europa League last year Ozil made no interceptions and won just 60% of his defensive dules. He did technically make double the number of ball recoveries in the opposition half. But having watched them back on WyScout its possible to see that five of those were rebounds from wayward corners he put in. The other was from a drop ball.
Of course there is the argument that individual matches can provide misleading statistics, but if you look for defensive trends across their whole career then it is clear to see who comes out on top.
Throughout his career since his move from Norway Odegaard has managed 0.35 more tackles per 90 than Ozil (0.9 vs 0.65), and has double the number of tackles made in the opposition third per game as per FBref (0.18 vs 0.09).
It’s not yet even clear if Arsenal will be able to keep the Norwegian beyond the end of this season. When asked about his prospects of staying Mikel Arteta seemed open to the prospect but admitted there is still a lot that needs to be done.
“It will be down to two things,” said the Spaniard. “First of all, how well he adapts here and how much of an impact he can have in our team.
“Secondly, what Real Madrid and the player think about it because he’s owned by Real Madrid and the player has a big say in that too.
“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.”
From what little he has shown so far though it seems as though the Norwegian could be exactly what the Gunners are looking for as they look to move beyond the Mesut Ozil era.
By signing up for our Arsenal newsletter, you will receive a once-daily email, focused around goings-on at Emirates Stadium.
You won’t miss a thing when it comes to the Gunners – you’ll get all you need to know directly into your inbox.
We’ll also send out special newsletters with any big breaking news too.
And with the January transfer window now open there’s plenty of content to get your teeth into.
How do you sign up?
It’s easy and only takes seconds.
Simply type your email address into the box at the top of this article – or any article on the Arsenal section of football.london in fact – labelled ‘Get the biggest daily stories by email’ and click ‘Subscribe’.
And that’s it, you’re all set.
If you decide later that you no longer wish to receive the emails, simply follow the unsubscribe link in one of the newsletters – but we don’t think you’ll want to.
For more details, click here.
The German’s passing talent was generational, and as good as Odegaard may have looked against Benfica, it is unlikely that he will ever be able to reach it.
But as Arsenal transition away from Arsene Wenger‘s lenient approach to defensive responsibilities to the more disciplined structure of Mikel Arteta, the work players put in to winning the ball back off the opposition is just as important as what they do with it.
In this department what Martin Odegaard can offer the Gunners is clear of what Mesut Ozil ever could.