Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta says that new loan signing Martin Odegaard was always going to be fighting a losing battle when being compared to Barcelona great Lionel Messi, but believes the Norwegian has the necessary qualities to thrive with the Gunners.
Real Madrid snapped up Odegaard from Stromsgodset as a teenager, farming the attacker out on loan to the likes of Heerenveen, Vitesse and Real Sociedad before giving him the chance to break into Zinedine Zidane’s squad this season.
Minutes had been hard to come by under the French head coach, however, and the 22-year-old has been given the chance to shine in north London as a result.
Arteta is excited by the prospect of having Odegaard at his disposal, having watched the youngster mature into a more well-rounded player over the years, but said that early comparisons to Messi were always going to be wide of the mark.
“I wouldn’t even get close to that name you just mentioned [Messi] because it’s a lost battle in my opinion. Martin is Martin,” Arteta said of Arsenal’s match-up with Manchester United on Saturday.
“He’s such a talent. He needs the right environment, a little bit of time, but he’s got the qualities to be a success for us. He’s a specialist to playing in the pockets, to be in the number eight, number 10 positions.
“He can play on the sides, a really creative player, really comfortable on the ball in tight spaces, the capacity to create chances, to score goals.
“Something he has improved a lot is his work rate without the ball as well. It’s another option to give us more creativity in the final third. He certainly has all the qualities and characteristics that we are looking for.
“Then it would be down to two things – first of all, how well he adapts here and how much of an impact he can have in our team, and second, what Real Madrid and the player thinks about it because he’s owned by Real Madrid and the player has a big say on that.
“I just wanted to give him a clear picture of who we are as a club, what we are trying to do, what we expect from him, just try to transmit the passion and excitement that we had to bring him in.
“I wanted to show him the project, how he fits and just try to persuade him that this is the right place for him and try to make things work.”
Whether Odegaard features against United remains to be seen, but the squad as a whole are likely to be buoyed by the fact that the Red Devils’ 13-match unbeaten run in the Premier League was brought to an end on Wednesday by Sheffield United.
Arteta took time to praise Chris Wilder’s outfit despite their lowly position in the league, and warned not to underestimate a Manchester United side that will be looking to bounce back from a shock defeat.
“It’s not a surprise because to beat any team in this league is extremely difficult and it’s not taken for granted,” Arteta said of the Blades’ 2-1 result at Old Trafford.
“Sheffield United are a really good threat and you see that. They’ve lost games they didn’t deserve to lose.
“I think every game is completely different, [Man United] have the capacity and the quality to beat any side in the world, we know we’re going to have to be at our best.”
“The games are huge, we need to be better than what we were on Tuesday (a 3-1 win at Southampton) to beat them.
“They’ve been in top form. They’ve been top of the table playing really well. We know they are a real threat. We have to be at our best to beat them on Saturday.”