Seeing a youngster rise up through the ranks to become a fully-fledged member of the first team squad is a source of pride for fans.
Knowing these starlets have been through every part of the club’s setup means they are steeped in the culture of the club – they are almost the same as me and you – aside from being blessed with a football at their feet.
Alex Iwobi is one of these players. He has been at Arsenal since a single-figure age, His debut in the first team was an ugly one – the humiliating 3-0 humbling at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup. Much like Hector Bellerin in that respect – the Spaniard also had a baptism of fire in a 2-0 defeat by Borussia Dortmund – Iwobi didn’t let his first taste of the first team sway his resolve.
His rise to prominence as a viable squad member was deserved. He can ghost past players with a swift drop of the shoulder, his ball control can be exquisite and whether we choose to ignore it or not, his final ball is very often the right one and an exhibit of great vision.
I mention ignorance, as this season he has been the subject of vitriol from a portion of Gooners. The comments I’ve witnessed on social media question his inclusion or addition from the bench on every occasion. Iwobi has obviously failed to convince some fans of his worthiness of a squad place.
Is it deserved? Not on this level. Players are in the spotlight and represent something very dear to us all. So if they fail to put in a good shift for the crest, then they are open to criticism.
There is criticism though, and then there is downright negative bias.
Aaron Ramsey gets the same sort of treatment, albeit on a weaker level. It would appear as if Iwobi needs to register a goal or assist in every game in order to sate his detractors, but that isn’t going to happen. His style of play lends itself to involvement in the earlier stage of a build-up as much as it does at the business end.
So, are his stats that bad?
Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka suffers from this to a degree. Xhaka is quite clearly not a defensive sentry, but his weaknesses in tracking runners is detracting from his Premier League-leading passing stats and excellent distribution both long and short. Because he isn’t what many of us thought he should be, that means he’s been tagged as an underperformer, which is simply unfair.
That isn’t to say Ramsey, Xhaka and Iwobi don’t have their faults. Criticism is just as fair as praise. Ramsey too often focuses on attack and leaves his defensive duties like a spoiled kid leaves his vegetables on the plate. Xhaka needs to concentrate more, and Iwobi needs to make the right decision more often, as well as perhaps concentrate on footballing matters a little more.
In a comparison matrix with Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling and former Gunner Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi shines quite brightly – especially when you consider how the team he is playing for is struggling in comparison.
Iwobi has created the second most amount of chances, The second most amount of forward passes and has the highest possession score out of all the participants in the comparison.
Not bad for a player who is viewed by some as nowhere near good enough to wear the jersey.
With our team falling way below the standards expected, the time we used to employ to blood a player in our tactics is far shorter than it was. We have far less patience and we want things immediately, rather than use a modicum of common sense and remember that a young player learns from his errors and needs to make them to progress.
Plus, the comparison above shows that Iwobi isn’t underperforming at all – he is in fact outperforming some players who are judged to be better players than he is. Another startling fact that may illuminate how good Iwobi actually is – he achieved those stats playing in far less games than his opponents. Iwobi has played in 17 games, Lingard 22, Sterling 25 and Oxlade-Chamberlain 23.
So, to surmise, Iwobi deserves his place amongst our leading lights, and he also deserves a bit of expectational pressure. If this is him underperforming, then just imagine when he actually hits a patch of form…
Comparison stats correct at the time of writing.