When Martin Ødegaard scored the league’s number 15 goal of the season on Sunday, he moved to the top of the special list.
He equaled the record for goals scored in a season by a central midfielder in the Premier League. He now has more than Steven Gerrard ever managed. More than Frank Lampard and Yaya Touré. More than David Beckham and Paul Scholes.
We hear that what Erling Haaland is doing is historic. The same goes for Ødegaard.
Best without penalty
It’s just not as easy as saying. We can easily provide historical context for Haaland’s achievement, because it can be measured by a clear number: 35 goals in the Premier League. More than anything. Enough.
Ødegaard’s featured list is a bit more controversial.
That doesn’t include penalty kicks. Lampard scored 22 league goals for Chelsea in 2009-10, with 10 of them off the chalk mark. Some would say that the list of top scorers without penalties is nonsense; these goals are as important as any other. And you can say that.
But penalties say little about the value a player brings to the team, unless the player himself earns them. If you put the ball into the net from a centimeter away, you’ve probably made a good run, or read the situation quickly, as Haaland often does. Everyone on the team can score without interruption from 11 meters out.
In 2009-10, goalkeeper Petr Cech could have moved up the goalscoring charts had he taken a Lampard penalty. Chelsea’s top scorer in the league in 2020-21 is midfield anchor Jorginho, who took a penalty but managed five finishes throughout the league season.
You can also play it and say: If Ødegaard scored the four penalties Arsenal have received in the Premier League this season, he would have scored as many goals as Mohamed Salah.
Another debate is who should be included in the list. Ødegaard is level with Kevin De Bruyne, who scored 15 goals for Manchester City last season. Wings like Salah are not included.
Then some would say that Dele Alli (17 goals in 2016-17) and Matt Le Tissier (19 goals in 1993-94) are midfielders. Again there will be disagreement: Did they not hang the strikers?
Regardless, one thing is clear: Neither of them were pure deep runners like Ødegaard.
And 15 goals cannot be taken away from him.
Ødegaard has scored these goals in many ways. He rumbles in long shots, like Gerrard; screwing the ball into the corner, like Beckham; run into the box, like Lampard.
All the numbers show that he is becoming more dangerous. He shot more often. He shoots better. In fact, he is one of the most effective players in the league with the opportunities presented to him.
Those goals mean something. Nine times Ødegaard scored Arsenal’s first or second goal in the match.
It’s easy to forget that he was once “Martin (15),” the boy from Godset, the sensation from Norway, with his wonderful gimmicks and twists. And who then went on to Real Madrid, where some saw him as a lost talent who barely threatened goals.
“Nice detail” is not enough. Even while on loan at Real Sociedad in 2019-20, he scored just four goals in 31 league appearances.
And Ødegaard heard it.
– Goals and assists are your measure in my position, and even more so like football now. You can play as well as you want, but if you don’t score or assist, no one recognizes you in the same way, he told NRK last year.
Fortunately, hard work pays off. Ødegaard has checked the video clip and captured the shot. Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta emphasized that he must enter the penalty box more often. Now Ødegaard has a role where he is free to take the field. Few indoor runners have this much freedom.
These factors have elevated it to a new level. He has more than double the number of goals in the league this season, without losing his quality as a playmaker, leader and manual laborer. Very few players in the world have all these qualities.
So the question is: Where will this end?
All the numbers say that Ødegaard will improve. Although his development has exploded this season, progress has continued since he joined Arsenal in 2021. He has been left behind for more goals, chances and shots.
He lifts the team, and the team lifts him. The talent around him – Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli – has also improved.
This opens up the possibility that Ødegaard can follow up on those numbers next season. Then we will find out if Arsenal continue to fight for the title, or if this season is a very special adventure in the style of Leicester in 2015-16, where everything went well at once.
Regardless, Ødegaard showed that those who asked for patience at the age of 15 were right. He has plenty of time. There’s still a lot that could happen.
Nine years later, Martin (24) is the most dangerous midfielder in the world’s most popular league.
Even without the Norwegian glasses, it’s pretty special.
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