Alex Iwobi has been at Arsenal since the age of 9 and it’s been revealed that he was nearly released on 2 separate occasions, so how has he gone from the brink of leaving to being an established first team player?
One reason is the difference of education within the youth team nowadays. Since the likes of Cesc Fabregas it’s been clear that Arsenal have had a copious amount of impressive young talents, talents that were given reasonable playing time too – players like Carlos Vela, Henri Lansbury, Håvard Nordtveit and Benik Afobe have been tried before eventually being moved on in recent years, many joining good level clubs – but Iwobi has succeeded where that all failed.
One thing that was apparent straight from his Emirates Cup start vs Lyon was Iwobi’s willingness to conform. He showed Wenger in that game that he was cool, composed and able to take instruction in what was an effective and mature display. Since that game it was a slow but steady rise for the English born Nigerian. Playing FA cup games along with playing many games for the u-23 team, some of which playing as a deeper central midfielder to build his tactical understanding.
His playing style is a wonderful combination of guile and intelligence, seamlessly drifting through the lines to receive and distribute and progressing the play by carrying and passing the ball into very astute areas. Iwobi uses the wing much like Cazorla used the wing when he played there a few seasons ago and he’s also proven to be an impressive counter-presser of the ball too.
Iwobi’s big chance came in the most unlikely of games, a Champion’s League 2nd leg match against Barcelona, an opportunity he’d firmly grasp. He displayed attributes we were gravely missing in the team. A clever and creative wide man adept at moving into the half-spaces and helping us control the game – Iwobi played against Barcelona like he played against them every week, his ability to take everything in his stride was abundantly impressive.
It wouldn’t stop there, he got the nod the following match day against Everton and even marked his first Premier League start with a well taken goal following a clever off the ball run.
Since then Iwobi’s stock has been on a continual rise, he’s become a main fixture in the Arsenal first XI, only the mercurial Kevin De Bruyne has more premier league assists, he’s recently scored his first competitive goal for Nigeria on his first competitive start and he’s been nominated for the prestigious European Golden Boy award. Former winners including Cesc Fabregas himself.
Given Iwobi is the nephew of former superstar Nigerian international Jay-Jay Okocha, perhaps it shouldn’t be particularly surprising that he shows a calm and composed demeanour on the ball even when surrounded by great numbers of players. It was the sheer speed of his rise that caught everyone off guard and pays homage to the work Iwobi has put into his own development and the recent coaching that has been more and more productive within our youth squads in recent years.
This season with Alexis Sánchez moving to a more central role, it’s given him the chance to make that left wing position his own and truly establish himself as a regular. The current Arsenal front 3 of Iwobi/Alexis/Theo is an exciting prospect, all 3 players combine well with each other and it’s a trio that has pace, creativity and most importantly – it has goals. Alexis is almost a trequartista, roaming attacking areas relentlessly, dropping deep and sitting on the last shoulder where he see’s fit, Walcott fills the space Alexis vacates when he drops deep that stops us becoming isolated and Iwobi drops narrower to help the likes of Özil, Cazorla and Xhaka control the game and keep the ball circulating in the final third.
Off the pitch it’s very apparent that Iwobi is self aware. He can commonly be seen critiquing his own performance on social media and always seems to play with his head up but his feet firmly on the ground. The key for him now will be to maintain his current form, something that becomes increasingly harder the more eyes are on you but as of yet nothing seems to phase him and it’s immensely pleasing to see another player of real quality come through our youth system.
Luke (@LukeisPremium) is one of our regular bloggers and loves talking tactics – go give him a follow.
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