Arsenal star Martin Odegaard thrown in at deep end by Mikel Arteta in fight for top four

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Martin Odegaard admits he was thrown in at the deep end when he was tossed the captain’s armband and told to lead Arsenal to the Champions League. The 23-year-old Norway international has never been the captain at any of his clubs, but after an awkward start, his promotion last month has coincided with a surge in Arsenal’s fortunes.

Four successive wins mean Arsenal can still finish fourth even if they lose the north London derby on Thursday. Arteta was a highly regarded captain for Arsenal himself. But when injury to Alexandre Lacazette robbed him of a leader for the trip to St Mary’s, the manager handed on the honour to the former Real Madrid player without so much as a word.

“He just told me before the first game against Southampton that I was gonna wear it and that was all,” Odegaard recalled. “We have a young team but I think with the young players we have we have a lot of experience as well.

“We’ve been through a lot and we just enjoy playing football together and you can see that on the pitch. We enjoy it.” Jamie Redknapp described Odegaard’s appointment as captain as “a masterstroke”, with the Sky Sports pundit describing him as Arteta’s “manager on the field” after the 2-1 win over West Ham.

However, Odegaard’s fledgling leadership qualities were given a sterner test when they nearly threw away a two-goal lead against Leeds on Sunday in a game they should have won at a canter. “We know how they play and we know they’ll never give up,” Odegaard said.

“We always knew it was going to be a fight until the end. Some parts of the game we can do better and kill the game. But all that matters is taking the three points. We have to win in different ways.

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“Last time against West Ham was not our best game, but we won. Against Leeds we played really well in some parts and other parts we had to fight. But we got the three points and that’s the most important thing so we’re happy.”

Despite spending six years on the books at Real Madrid, Odegaard has started just two Champions League group stage away games, so he is as keen as anybody at Arsenal to achieve the team’s ultimate goal this season.

“I’ve played in the Champions League a few games but I don’t feel like I’ve really played there,” he said. “I really want to get into there and fight. That’s where the best teams want to be of course so that would be big for me and the club.”

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