Mikel Arteta has hailed Arsenal loanee Martin Odegaard – as the Gunners attempt to work on persuading the Norwegian to turn his back on his Real Madrid dream.
Odegaard, 22, is on loan at the Emirates until the end of the season from the Spanish giants.
He arrived in North London after growing frustrated with a lack of opportunities in Madrid in the first half of the season, having returned from an impressive loan stint at Real Sociedad last term.
But with Zinedine Zidane reticent to make him a regular in his starting XI, Odegaard joined the Gunners on a temporary deal last month – his sixth loan spell since joining Los Blancos as a teenager.
However, amid questions over Zidane’s long-term future at the Santiago Bernabeu, the Madrid hierarchy refused to negotiate any kind of option in the deal to allow Arsenal to make his signing permanent this summer.
Nonetheless, Arsenal chiefs took him in January both in a bid to add extra spark to their attack now, and in the hope that they can persuade the player to stay in North London.
Odegaard impressed in his first Premier League start at the weekend, as Arsenal beat Leeds 4-2.
Asked post-game whether he would return to Real Madrid this summer, he told Norway’s TV2: “You never know what is going to happen.
“But for now, I am just focusing on doing my best this season and helping the team as much as possible."
Already, he has left a lasting impression on Mikel Arteta.
While the Spaniard has elected to ease Odegaard into life in England – his first two league appearances came from the bench – he has impressed the Arsenal boss with his personality and focus.
And the Gunners chief is in no doubts that he can become one of the world’s very best.
“He’s got the potential,” said Arteta, speaking ahead of Thursday’s Europa League meeting with Benfica.
“I followed him very closely when he was at Real Sociedad and he was really impressive over there for long periods.
"He had a really successful season over there and that’s one of the reasons why I was so convinced that he’s a player for us.
“He’s a player that I really like and, as you say, still has huge potential to become even better."
Already, the Norwegian has fit in seamlessly at London Colney, and his link up with Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe against Leeds, with the trio operating behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, was encouraging.
Arteta believes Odegaard is a natural leader and can be a reference point for his side in attack.
“[It’s been] All positive from my first conversations with him. He’s a really focused and humble boy that was really keen to join.
"He’s a really nice guy, the players like him, the staff like him, he’s easy going, a really hard worker and I’ve been very impressed with his leadership. He looks a little bit calm but on the pitch he’s got something about him.
"When I talk about leadership, it's how he talks to his team-mates, how he commands the high press and then the personality he shows," he said.
"Every time the opponent comes after him, he still shows for the ball in the right areas. His decision making is really good and he's a really intelligent player."
He’s a player for whom Arsenal chiefs will continue to work in the coming months, as they seek to turn his temporary stay into a permanent one.
Persuading him is one thing however. Persuading Florentino Perez is quite another.
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