Martin Odegaard would probably still afford himself a slight smile whenever his performance away at West Ham in March last year is brought into a conversation.
Arsenal’s failure to win at the London Stadium last season – despite coming from 3-0 down to draw a thriller – means the Norwegian will himself never be completely satisfied with his work that afternoon.
But it is a game in which he himself admitted in the summer was his best individual performance in the second half of the 2020-21 season, after joining the Gunners from Real Madrid on loan.
Martin Odegaard (R) delivered a stunning performance for Arsenal at West Ham last season
He was the shining light as the Gunners came from 3-0 down to earn a point in east London
It would appear strange to class a performance in which he did not register a goal or assist as the day he truly announced his arrival as an Arsenal player, especially since the week before he had netted his first Premier League goal in a north London derby victory.
But it was the swagger and confidence with which he continued to drive Arsenal forward, even when they were trailing by three goals, and with which he consequently created chances against David Moyes’ men that was so astonishing.
‘I think he had an incredible performance, he was very intelligent the way he read the game, the way he affected the game and again he showed how much he wants to win,’ Arteta said after the game.
‘When everyone was a little bit trembling, he gave us that composure on the ball and he created chance after chance.
Odegaard has since joined permanently and become a key figure in Mikel Arteta’s side
‘I love talented and creative players that all the time are willing to take that ball and make things happen, that are mobile and also hardworking. He is one of them.
‘We have some others with different qualities, but it’s true that Martin is now giving us a different level on certain things that we didn’t have.’
The Arsenal fans were also in awe of what they saw and the clamour to make Odegaard’s move from Madrid to London permanent began, including from a former Gunners striker.
‘Martin Odegaard is somebody that they need to make sure they make that signing if they can. Because he really did come to the fore today,’ Ian Wright said after the game.
‘What you want to see from him is a player that has got unbelievable potential and ability and you want to see him in a game like that where he’s going to be in the meat and bones of the game where he’s got to pick the ball up and does what he does.
Odegaard has seen the limelight taken by the likes of striker Eddie Nketiah (R) in the last week
‘He wants the ball and plays it, he’s very efficient with it. He done it in a game where Arsenal needed it. Like we saw on so many occasions he chose the right pass, fantastic today. He was magnificent.’
A permanent transfer eventually came to fruition with a £30m deal agreed between Arsenal and Real Madrid in the summer.
The north London club’s social media account took advantage of their fans gushing over Odegaard’s display by releasing an ‘Open Mic’ video of him, listening in to his words during the 3-3 draw.
Despite having recently arrived, Odegaard was heard barking instructions at the likes of Bukayo Saka, encouraging his team-mates and celebrating every goal vociferously as they made their way back into the game.
It demonstrated Odegaard would not only lead by example on the pitch but would be a commanding voice in the dressing room too, and goes some way to explaining why he is now in contention to be Arsenal’s next permanent captain.
But in recent weeks, while praise for him has not exactly been lacking, Odegaard has seen the likes of Eddie Nketiah, Bukayo Saka, Granit Xhaka and even Mohamed Elneny take the limelight in wins against Chelsea and Manchester United.
However, as the Gunners’ focus turns to West Ham away as they continue their push to qualify for next season’s Champions League, they will perhaps look for the Norway captain to produce the same sort of magic he did on his last visit to east London.
And statistics from Opta demonstrate just how impressive that performance from Odegaard just over 13 months ago in the six-goal thriller was.
He was Arsenal’s best performer in a number of areas on the day, with no team-mate creating as many as his four chances or completing as many successful passes in West Ham’s half.
He also completed all four of his dribbles and made the most penalty area entries of any Arsenal player with 16, which all demonstrate the borderline over-reliance placed on him to drive the team forward.
Of the 76 passes he attempted, he completed 71 of them to give him a 93 per cent pass accuracy and he was also joint-second for fouls won and passes into the final third.
Martin Ødegaard’s game by numbers vs. West Ham:
93% pass accuracy
16 penalty area entries (most)
9 crosses (most)
6 duels won
5 touches in opp. box
4 take-ons (most)
4 chances created (most)
2 fouls won
1 shot on target
— Squawka (@Squawka) March 21, 2021
Squawka also stated he made the most crosses of any Gunner (nine) and his four take-ons were also unrivalled. To go with that were 95 touches, six duels won, five touches in the West Ham box and three shots, one of which was on target.
But his imperious display was no better demonstrated than during his role in Craig Dawson’s own goal which made it 3-2.
The Norwegian – as he had done on several occasions with intricate and clever balls down the middle – managed to expose Hammers midfielders Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek.
He then played a reverse ball in to Calum Chambers, whose cross was rather emphatically put into his own net by Dawson.
Odegaard’s brilliance was shown by his role in Craig Dawson’s own goal from Calum Chambers’ cross
Such brilliance from Odegaard continues to be a dominant feature of his game, having drawn audible gasps and subsequent applause from the home fans when he nutmegged Raphael Varane last weekend.
But he still managed to combine that flair with some key passes, putting Eddie Nketiah through to smash the ball straight at David de Gea before his clipped ball helped Bukayo Saka win Arsenal’s penalty.
It is therefore unsurprising that before the start of this weekend, the 23-year-old had created the most chances from open play in the Premier League since November, with Bruno Fernandes next best and three behind his 45.
Since the start of the season, only Mohamed Salah (58) and Fernandes (73) have created more chances from open play in the league than Odegaard.
Most chances created in the Premier League from open play since November as of 27 April
The ex-Real Madrid midfielder was also – before the latest round of fixtures – in fourth with 52 when it comes to chances created in the top flight since November, with Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne leading the way with 59 and Trent Alexander-Arnold (57) and James Ward-Prowse (56) also above him.
Team-mate Saka (62) is also then ahead of Odegaard (61), as are Fernandes (86), Alexander-Arnold (83), De Bruyne (71) and Ward-Prowse (67) for chances created in the whole season to date, including assists.
However, Odegaard’s hard work while pressing and working back is another aspect that has earned plaudits from Arteta, and that ability to win the ball is shown by the fact he has made the most tackles (45) of any Arsenal player in the top flight this term.
He is therefore two clear of centre-back Ben White and midfielder Thomas Partey (43), and three tackles ahead of combative defender Gabriel Magalhaes.
These sort of returns undoubtedly demonstrate how key Odegaard has become to his side despite having only been at Arsenal for 16 months.
Odegaard also has the most tackles of any Arsenal player in the Premier League this season
But speaking last month, Arteta was keen to emphasise that statistics should not be the sole factor in determining how important the Norway star’s contributions are, particularly because his four assists do not reflect the fact he has created so many chances this term.
‘He is moving in the right way,’ Arteta said. ‘He is the national team captain. He is one of the senior players here, for sure, even at his age, and it comes very natural to him.
‘It’s how you play today if you perform to your maximum, to your best, help your team-mates to make the process defensively and offensively better – it’s enough.’
‘Martin for us is a really important player, that’s for sure,’ he added.
Most tackles by Arsenal players in the Premier League this season
‘He’s showing that every single week. He’s phenomenal to work with. He’s developing areas of his game that we discussed, that he agreed, and that we believed could help him impact matches in a much more powerful way.
‘His whole mindset, the way he prepares himself, the way he treats people, the way he plays the game, is just exactly what we want from an Arsenal player.’
That is not to suggest the statistics cannot suggest areas of improvement. Odegaard has six goals from 31 games, which is an improvement on the two he managed in six months last season.
But three of those came in as many games during a purple patch at the start of December against Manchester United, Everton and Southampton.
Just two goals have come in 2022, no doubt an area Arteta will be keen for him to improve given Arsenal’s lack of goals from midfield ever since the departures of Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey.
Odegaard has scored six goals this season but will be looking to increase his tally to help the club secure Champions League football
But his ability to keep cool in front of goal was demonstrated by his finish at Watford and it is that quality the Gunners will need if they are to secure Champions League football for the first time since the 2016-17 season.
Europe’s premier club competition and the captain’s armband on a permanent basis – having worn it twice in the last week – are currently the carrots being dangled in front of Odegaard.
And if he can lead the Gunners to make the first – starting at the London Stadium today – and if he is handed the second, he will remind the European game just what made Real Madrid sign him aged 16, and why Arsenal’s business last summer looks even better.