Martin Odegaard and the ‘mood-booster’: How Arsenal leaders are driving Premier League title bid

 (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
(Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

It is 13 years since Arsenal and Manchester United were both in contention to be champions, but their meeting on Sunday could mark the start of another epic title tussle between the resurgent clubs.

The two form teams in the Premier League are unbeaten since the World Cup, and the fixture at Emirates Stadium could be hugely significant in the context of their seasons.

Arsenal are five points clear of Manchester City at the top after the latter’s 4-2 win over Tottenham on Thursday night, although Pep Guardiola’s side have a chance to close that gap further when they host Wolves in the early game on Sunday.

United let two points slip when they conceded an injury-time equaliser at Crystal Palace on Wednesday, but their rebirth under Erik ten Hag means a three-way title race is a reality.

Not since the 2009-10 season have Arsenal and United been vying for the title. That year, the Gunners were three points behind leaders Chelsea with five games left, but faded in the run-in, as the Blues were crowned champions under Carlo Ancelotti.

Leadership group: Arsenal trio Martin Odegaard, Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Jesus (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Leadership group: Arsenal trio Martin Odegaard, Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Jesus (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

This time, though, Arsenal look to have enough staying power to last the distance. Their only Premier League defeat this season came at Old Trafford in September when, controversially, they had an opening goal ruled out for a foul in the build-up.

On Sunday, Mikel Arteta and his players will be out to avenge that loss and demonstrate why they are now undeniable favourites to win their first title since 2004. Great Arsenal teams of old were built on a strong dressing room with big personalities and, after a turbulent period, the club appears to finally have that again.

The leadership comes from a core group of players, with captain Martin Odegaard aided by vice-captains Gabriel Jesus and Granit Xhaka. They are supported by Cedric Soares and Rob Holding, who were voted in by the players. Each brings different qualities, and the harmony off the pitch has reaped rewards on it. Odegaard has stepped up as captain and is arguably the best player in the country on form.

It is during the title run-in when the true strength of Arsenal’s leadership group will be tested

The 24-year-old is also having a big influence off the pitch. He is seen as a calming presence around the club and is regularly one of the last to leave the training ground, such is his willingness to help across all departments.

He is liked within the squad, thanks largely to being a good listener. He consults with the leadership group and other players around issues like travel and days off, before relaying preferences to club staff. While they might seem small things, during a relentless season they are making a difference.

The Norwegian mixes with everyone and often sits with a different person each day at lunch, be that a team-mate, coach or, quite often, an analyst. His style mixes well with Xhaka, who brings a vocal and disciplined approach to the squad. Jesus is described as a “mood-booster”, full of energy and someone who has brought a winning mentality from City.

Those three are supported by Cedric and Holding, who are also popular in the squad. Holding, in particular, is described as a social chameleon and regularly helps new players settle in, offering them lifts to training or taking them into London.

What unites the five leaders, though, is their work ethic. They are all classic ‘Arteta players’, sticklers for professionalism who set the tone for the rest to follow. While things are going well at the moment, we are only just halfway through the season, and it is the title run-in when the true strength of the leadership group will be tested.

United showed in their win in the Manchester derby last weekend what a dangerous threat they can be. But Arsenal will be prepared — their leadership group will make sure of that.