With his opener in Arsenal’s win over Newcastle on Sunday, drilled low into the bottom corner from 25 yards out, Martin Odegaard took his goal tally to 15 in the Premier League this season.
It is the most by an Arsenal midfielder since Cesc Fabregas hit the same total in 2009/10 and puts him behind only five players – all of them forwards – in this year’s scoring charts. Take out penalties and it is more than even Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard ever managed.
It is a remarkable haul which reflects a dramatic change in the 24-year-old’s game. Before this season, Odegaard had never reached double figures for goals in a league campaign. A creator, yes. But not a natural scorer. Or, at least, that’s how it seemed.
His contribution this term, which includes five goals in his last five games, demands a reassessment. Odegaard is Arsenal’s joint-top scorer alongside Gabriel Martinelli. He has found the net more than twice as many times as he did in the whole of last season.
It is little wonder comparisons with Kevin de Bruyne are gaining traction. Excluding Erling Haaland, Odegaard is probably the Belgian’s closest competitor for the PFA Player of the Year award.
But none of this has happened by accident. In fact, Mikel Arteta and his coaching staff have been working to develop Odegaard’s goal threat ever since his arrival at the club two years ago.
The priority was to get him playing higher up the pitch.
“I think now he’s more comfortable doing that than when he joined, because he was all the time playing in deeper roles, getting the ball in deeper areas,” Arteta told Sky Sports last year.
“He was more comfortable facing the play from those positions than being in advanced positions. But that’s the work we have been doing with him. In my opinion, that’s where he can be best for the team.”
The shift has happened gradually and can be seen when comparing his heat maps for the last three seasons. From one campaign to the next, his involvement in Arsenal’s build-up play has declined, meaning less time in his own half and more in the opposition’s.
The process was accelerated by the signing of Oleksandr Zinchenko in the summer, the inverted left-back effectively acting as an additional deep-lying midfielder when Arsenal are in possession, in turn allowing Arteta to narrow Odegaard’s remit.
But it has also required a change in mindset from the player himself. As Arteta put it in his press conference after the recent 3-1 win over Chelsea: “He needed have the mentality to win matches, not just to control games. I think that’s changed.”
It can be seen in his numbers for shots and expected goals as well as his actual goals scored.
This season, Odegaard is attempting nearly twice as many shots as he was in his first campaign at Arsenal. He is generating more than three times as many expected goals per 90 minutes.
His touches in the opposition the box have increased dramatically too. This season, he is averaging 3.8 per 90 minutes, an increase from roughly 2.2 per 90 minutes in the previous two campaigns.
His goal against Newcastle, almost identical to the one fired past Hugo Lloris in Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Tottenham in January, was a reminder of his threat from long range. Odegaard has scored five goals from outside the box since the start of last season.
But it is inside the box that his transformation as an attacking force is most apparent.
Odegaard, already a master in terms of his vision and appreciation of space when seeking to break teams down, is now demonstrating the same qualities in the final action.
Consider the fact that his shot percentage from inside the box has risen from 40 per cent to 52 per cent this season – and that nine of his 15 Premier League goals in the current campaign have been dispatched first time from inside the area.
The numbers show a switch of emphasis and underline a newly-honed ability to be in the right place at the right time, just as he was for each of his goals in the recent 3-1 win over Chelsea.
His opener, in particular, showed the intelligence of his movement.
Odegaard makes a late run into the box and, with Mateo Kovacic out of position, he signals his availability to Xhaka.
Just as Xhaka crosses, though, and seeing Kovacic has continued running towards his own goal, Odegaard checks back, the subtle movement ensuring he receives the ball with room to finish.
That same knack for finding space in the box has been evident throughout the season.
For his opening goal in the 3-0 win over Bournemouth in August, Odegaard is initially ignored by Martinelli, who opts to shoot from a tight angle. When the ball rebounds back out, though, he is there, in the right place to hook it into the net from eight yards out.
His increased hunger to score was apparent with his second goal in that victory at the Vitality Stadium.
Having spotted a heavy touch from Gabriel Jesus in the box, he immediately latches onto the loose ball, rifling a first-time finish past the goalkeeper before his team-mate can reach it.
The same ruthlessness was there again against Wolves in November. As Fabio Vieira chips a cross over the advancing Jose Sa, Odegaard nips in ahead of Bukayo Saka to apply the close-range finish.
Despite his goals, Odegaard’s performances, and his suitability to the role of captain, have been questioned by some supporters at times, most recently after the 4-1 loss to Manchester City.
But while he was undoubtedly poor in that game, nobody can claim to have been more influential in keeping Arsenal in the title race subsequently. Even in the 3-3 draw with Southampton, it was him who dragged them back into it in the dying minutes.
The fact that only two players – Haaland and Brentford’s Ivan Toney – have scored more goals in away games this season (nine) shows his appetite for the tougher assignments and that appetite was clear on Sunday. “A captain’s performance,” said Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher of his player-of-the-match display at St James’ Park.
Most impressive of all, though, is the fact that Odegaard has added goals to his game without sacrificing any of his creativity.
In fact, only two players, Manchester City’s De Bruyne and Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes, have created more chances from open play in the Premier League this season.
Odegaard remains the fulcrum of Arteta’s team, the player responsible for knitting together midfield and attack. In addition to the goals he has racked up, he has completed the most final-third passes in the division. He ranks third for successful through-balls.
On top of that, a deeper look at data provided by Opta shows that Odegaard has been involved in more shot-ending pass sequences than any other Arsenal player this season.
Then there is his off-the-ball work, and a level of industry unmatched even in a hard-working group. Odegaard covers more ground than any other Arsenal player. He has won possession in the final third more times than anyone in the Premier League this season.
It is with the ball, though, in and around the opposition box, that Odegaard has taken his game to another level this season. Arsenal’s creator in chief is now their most potent goal threat too.
Watch Arsenal vs Brighton live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm on Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm