Martin Odegaard’s passing masterclass puts Arsenal seven points clear

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By Sam Dean, at the Amex Stadium 

Is there a better player in the Premier League, at this moment of the season, than Martin Odegaard? The Arsenal captain’s international team-mate, a certain Erling Haaland, might have something to say in response to that question. But it is an increasingly fair one to ask, and the evidence in favour of Odegaard is becoming more and more compelling with each passing game.

At the most basic level, Odegaard is currently the best player in the team that is currently the best in the league. The gap between Arsenal and Manchester City now stands at a remarkable seven points, after yet another Odegaard masterclass laid the foundation for yet another victory for Mikel Arteta’s side.

Seven points. It is almost too much to be true for Arsenal’s supporters, who did not know where to turn as delight swept through their ranks on the south coast. City’s draw with Everton earlier in the day had presented the opportunity to Arsenal, and Odegaard ensured that they grasped it with confidence and conviction.

In his last 13 league appearances, Odegaard has been involved in 12 goals. Here he struck his seventh goal of the campaign, a vicious effort that bounced into the top corner of Brighton’s net to put Arsenal two goals ahead. He then registered his fifth assist with a glorious, swirling, defence-destroying pass into the path of Gabriel Martinelli.

Martin Odegaard is a player at the height of his creative and match-winning powers

Credit: Tony O’Brien/Reuters

Inventive and aggressive, Odegaard is playing with a class that few players can match. The 24-year-old is growing with each outing, seeing the passes that others cannot and producing the moments of quality that define games. At one point in the first half, he extracted four Brighton players from the match with a single piece of outrageous skill.

One of the reasons for Odegaard’s popularity at Arsenal, and indeed one of the reasons for Arteta giving him the captaincy, is his level-headedness. This is a young man who has lived his entire adult life in the spotlight, and he knows how to deal with situations of such heady excitement. “I am happy to help the team with goals and assists,” he said afterwards, instantly switching into PR mode.

In fairness, it is not Odegaard’s responsibility to luxuriate in his own performances. That is the task of the Arsenal supporters, who saw all of their forwards score at the Amex. Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah and Martinelli all found the net on Boxing Day, and they all did so again here.

Saka’s early goal set up the victory that sent the north Londoners seven points clear at the top of the table

Credit: Vince Mignott /Shutterstock

This is not to say that everything went Arsenal’s way. Roberto De Zerbi’s Brighton are a complicated opponent, capable of rattling any team, and Arsenal had to survive extended spells of difficulty. The visitors conceded twice in the second half and were grateful for a marginal offside call that denied Kaoru Mitoma another goal towards the end.

Throughout the game, Mitoma was the biggest threat for Brighton. On another day, perhaps against another opponent, the night would have belonged to him. But not even the sparkling winger could outshine Odegaard, the playmaker who painted wondrous pictures with his golden boots.

“He is doing what we want him to do, which is to decide football matches, work really hard and deliver to the team what it needs in each moment of every game,” said Arteta of Odegaard.

For De Zerbi, the greatest frustration was his side’s inability to remain calm in the opening moments of both halves. Saka scored after just two minutes, converting coolly after Martinelli’s shot had spun into his path. Later, just a few seconds after the break, Nketiah prodded home Arsenal’s third.

Even at that stage, with Arsenal leading by three goals and seemingly cruising towards another three points, Arteta was not satisfied. At one point he saw something he did not like, somewhere in his team, and he screamed towards the dugout in rage.

No amount of control in the game will make the Spaniard overlook the little details, and he knew the evening was not over. He was right, too. Mitoma converted a tidy pass from Pascal Gross to re-energise the home crowd, before Brighton teenager Evan Ferguson capitalised on an error by William Saliba.

In between those two Brighton goals, though, came Odegaard’s latest masterpiece. A first-time pass, punched between the Brighton defenders and into the space where Martinelli was waiting. In a straight race between the Brazilian and Tariq Lamptey, one of the fastest players in the division, the Arsenal forward surged clear.

It was a goal that summarised why Arsenal are at the top of the league table. This is a team of enormous technical skill, but they also have raw physicality on their side. In midfield, Thomas Partey produced a crunching tackle that led to the first goal. Next to him, Granit Xhaka darted around with energy and maturity.

Whether all this will be enough to hold off City will, of course, be another matter. Even now, with such a big gap between the teams, the feeling is that City will come back strong. But Arsenal, and Odegaard, can do no more to prove they are deserving of their position at the summit of the English game.

As it happened