Martin Odegaard: Revisiting the four alternatives Arsenal chased in 2021

Arsenal’s decision to buy Martin Odegaard from Real Madrid for £30million back in 2021 has proven to be one of the best Premier League transfers over recent years.

Odegaard has been nothing short of exceptional in Arsenal’s surprise title charge this season and is already club captain. The Norwegian impressed on his initial loan from Madrid in the latter half of the 2020-21 campaign, but a permanent deal didn’t get completed until August, and reports suggested he wasn’t the only creative midfielders they were pursuing that summer.

Needless to say, Arsenal can be satisfied they made the right choice in signing Odegaard, but what became of the other options they were linked with that summer? We’ve taken a look back.


There was a time in the not too distant past that Isco was considered one of the finest players in Europe.

The Spaniard started in two of Real Madrid’s four Champions League final victories between 2014 and 2018 and was particularly exceptional under Zinedine Zidane in the double-winning 2016-17 campaign.

But as with other players of a similar profile – think Mesut Ozil and James Rodriguez – his influence waned as the role of a traditional, classic No.10 faded away.

In his final season at the Bernabeu he was little more than a bit-part player, and he’s failed to get his career back on track since. Isco, still only 31, is currently at Real Betis.

Back in 2021, there was still hope some he could be revived at a top club elsewhere. football.london reported in July 2021 that “Odegaard is likely to stay at Real Madrid under Ancelotti” and that Los Blancos team-mate Isco represented an alternative option, while the player’s father and agent was on the record stating the midfielder “wants to try a new league”.

Given how things have gone for the two players since, it’s safe to say Arsenal can be pretty confident they made the right choice of Madrid playmakers.

Houssem Aouar

As is ever the case with a long-running saga, during the summer of 2020, a section of Arsenal’s terminally-online fanbase convinced themselves that Aouar was the messiah, a must-have, and it would be an absolute disaster if they failed to get a deal for the technically gifted Lyon midfielder over the line.

Interest in this one seemed to be concrete, while Aouar genuinely looked an exceptional young talent, having played a role in Lyon’s shock defeat of Manchester City in the 2019-20 Champions League quarter-finals.

Arsenal’s interest cooled, but The Athletic reported in 2021 that Aouar’s name was “once more being discussed behind closed doors” – though that never quite materialised.

The midfielder is now in Serie A with Roma.

Bernardo Silva

Given quite how good he’s been for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, it’s always been a bit perplexing that Bernardo Silva’s name is never far away from the transfer rumour mill.

The Portugal international has frequently been linked with a move away from the Etihad, with Barcelona said to be particularly keen, but Arsenal were also linked back in 2021.

That summer, in which Jack Grealish arrived for a record £100million, Guardiola confirmed that Silva asked to leave.

Edu and Arteta are evidently happy to take players from City – as evidenced by subsequent moves for Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus – but media reports suggest that Silva snubbed interest from Arsenal.

James Maddison

Maddison was previously linked with Manchester United as a Bruno Fernandes alternative and Arsenal when they were chasing Odegaard.

Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn would’ve been happy enough to see either player arrive at the Emirates that summer. It’s strange to think now that the prevailing mood is that Arsenal would’ve had to pay a higher fee to sign Maddison from Leicester than they ended up shelling out for Odegaard.

“The fact he’s been here and knows a lot of the players is an added bonus. He’s got an insight into what Mikel Arteta wants and how he wants to play,” Winterburn told GOAL at the time.

“I do like James Maddison, I’ve got to admit, he’s someone playing Premier League football, so he knows what it’s all about.

“The supporters don’t look at the money, they want the best option for Arsenal, and they don’t want to feel like they’ll sign Odegaard just because he’s cheaper.

“Both would fit, one has a lot of experience in the Premier League and the other one knows how Arteta and Arsenal work.”

He’s now tearing it up at Tottenham.

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