Martin Ødegaard: Arsenal ‘are really ready for the game and hyped up’ ahead of Champions League round-of-sixteen decider

Speaking to the media ahead of Arsenal’s second-leg round-of-sixteen tie against FC Porto in the UEFA Champions League, Martin Ødegaard voiced the high level of motivation both he and his team have prior to their decider against the Portuguese side, who they slipped to a slender defeat against at the Estádio do Dragão

Ødegaard was asked about how this season feels different to the last, wherein Arsenal fell just short of clinching the Premier League title. The Norwegian international spoke about the team’s growth continuing to progress and the valuable learning of lessons at every step of their journey under Mikel Arteta. 

‘I think first of all we’re a better team. Of course, we’ve made some good signings, but also the experience, what we learned last season, I think we’ve been using that in a good way going into this season. I feel like that’s what we’ve done the last few years, missing out on the Champions League the year before, we came back stronger.’

‘Then last season obviously was a really tough end. I think we’ve learned a good lesson and hopefully now coming towards the end of the season, we can show that and use it in a good way.’

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The first leg against FC Porto was the only game from Arsenal’s last nine in all competitions where they’ve failed to find the back of the net. The game came as an anomaly for the Gunners, but hasn’t seemed to disrupt their recent fine form. 

The Arsenal captain addressed the defeat in Portugal and expressed how they’re looking to turn things around at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday evening. 

‘We didn’t play our best game. We weren’t good enough on the ball. We’ve looked at all those things and straight after the game I think all the players, we just spoke together and knew what we had to do differently already. But yeah, as you say, it’s the only game we didn’t win now in this year. I think that’s enough motivation to come back and show a different side tomorrow. We’re all really, really ready for the game and hyped up, so it’s going to be a good one.’

Ødegaard went on to speak about his experience in the Champions League. The Arsenal number eight told reporters about his rise from being loaned out from Real Madrid, and his journey to competing on Europe’s biggest stage. 

‘I always believed that I was going to make it, if you can say that. I mean, I didn’t play that way, but to play big games and Champions League, you know, in the biggest leagues and all that, I always had that belief. Of course, when I signed for [Real] Madrid, the plan was not to go on loan in the Netherlands or in Spain or whatever, but that’s football and that’s life. I think it’s all a part of your journey, and you have to deal with it.’

Ødegaard was asked to speak about his former teammate, Pepe, and what he brings to the table. The 25-year-old had nothing but praise for the Porto centre back – and subsequently, he was asked whether he was surprised Pepe was still playing. 

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‘I have so much respect for him. I played with him a bit in Madrid as well, I know him from that time. He’s a great guy, what he’s doing now at that age is a lot of respect to him to be able to keep going like that. He was always a very professional guy, taking care of his body and working hard. I’m not surprised he’s still playing.’

Discussing the team spirit and bond at Arsenal, Ødegaard stated ‘we have something special for sure,’ emphasising the bond the players at the club have. That has been evident in Arsenal’s recent form, in particular, and the season as a whole. 

‘I think the bond we have, the team spirit and the team feeling we have is unbelievable. It’s the best I’ve seen in my life being in a team. I think you can see that on the pitch now as well, how much we enjoy playing together. I think you can see more and more how we understand each other on the pitch, how we move in relation to each other and all those things. So, I think that’s a brilliant thing to be strong as a team. I think you can see that on the pitch now as well.’

Arsenal welcome the visit of FC Porto for a showdown at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday evening, with the Gunners hoping to overturn the 0-1 aggregate deficit. The game will kick off at 20:00 GMT, with viewers in the UK able to catch the game on TNT Sports.