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Iwobi Needs To Push On Next Season

Alex Iwobi divides opinion like he divides opponents legs.

Our very own ‘Nutmeg Prince’ has been a first team fixture since 2015, but speak to some and his name will be one of the first names on the departure list this summer.

Our very own Academy product has failed to grow his contributions since Arsene Wenger stated in his last season that the Nigerian’s final product was the one thing that needed to improve. Wenger mentioned that the attacker had everything else in his locker, but the most decisive part was still the one weapon Iwobi really needed to hone.

And the stats don’t lie.

Of course, numbers don’t always give true perspective on a player. They offer a certain viewpoint and shine light on certain facets of a player, but like holding a gemstone to the light, you won’t see every part until you look at it from all angles.

The same applies to Alex Iwobi.

Iwobi Pic

 

The Nigerian scored three times and claimed six assists in 35 appearances in the Premier League this season. The season before saw the same amount of goals and one assist less.

Now this plateauing of numbers could be attributed to a new coach, new system, new tactics, training etc. It will at least have a contributing effect, but another variable is that Iwobi still hasn’t drastically improved his final ball – or final decision.

It is abundantly clear that Iwobi has the touch and the tell-tale attributes that comprise the makeup of a great attacker. At times we have seen him produce slide rule passes and touches that bewitch his opposing number.

We have also seen him make the wrong decision time and time again.

The good thing is, this can be taught. Remember that Iwobi is still nowhere near his peak and so is still developing.

The saving grace for Iwobi too, is that we have no one in the squad that adds what he does.

His particular skillset is based on confrontation with opposing fullbacks and producing opportunities either through a pass or creating them for himself. He goes past players like they are mere apparitions at times, and he does it better than anyone in the team, like it or not.

So he has a place as he can change games. He seems ideally suited to an impact sub role at the moment, but he isn’t far away from unlocking his true potential. The problem is patience.

It seems like Iwobi has been on the scene for some time, but this was only his third full season in the first team. Yes, he should have a better final ball right now, but there aren’t many his age – Hudson-Odoi is an exception – that bring to the table what he does.

Iwobi is on the precipice right now. His natural ambition will be to want more than to be a squad player at Arsenal – but that is where he is right now. He has the key to unlocking so much more in his locker, but he must listen to those that know better. The extensive array of backroom staff, his teammates who have gleaned worldwide experience. If he can learn from others then there is hope of seeing Iwobi push on.

Next season sees a fresh challenge for Iwobi. With Reiss Nelson, Jo Willock and Emile Smith-Rowe coming back into the fold, he has more competition for his spot. It is clear that he will have to not only do more than what he has done this season, but also he has to act as a big brother to those younger than him. That is the essence of a team, and Iwobi has a role to play.

The Nigerian has the world at his feet, but the next step is the most precarious. Fingers crossed we see the new and improved Iwobi next season.

The Enigma of Iwobi

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.

Alex Iwobi – The Real Deal

When youngsters make their breakthrough, it is quite tempting to get carried away and adorn them with lavish comparisons and tags that only serve to add pressure to their slender shoulders.

So many have tumbled down the leagues and out of the glare of the public eye after such a dazzling birth onto the footballing stage. Was this purely down to the weight of expectation? No, but it certainly doesn’t aid them.

If these starlets push through the inevitable difficult times that succeed their bursting onto the scene, then that is the watermark for a long and prosperous career, for if they can overcome such testing times at such an age, then their much talked of ‘mental strength’ is exactly where it needs to be.

There are a few who fit this bill that currently ply their trade in the Premiership. Kelechi Iheanacho and Marcus Rashford certainly have grabbed the plaudits, but crucially, they have continued their incline towards the stars in the face of doubts from their respective managers, and reduced playing time.

They have shown they have the mettle to ally with their gargantuan talent, and our very own Alex Iwobi deserves to be included in this exclusive group – and perhaps even eclipse them both.

The second half of last season was Iwobi’s moment, and he grabbed it in spectacular fashion. Arsenal’s annual injury crisis affected their midfield last term, and it was the opening that the Nigerian craved. 

It is all well and good being given the chance, it is another thing entirely to take the chance. Coming into the side, and with the team struggling for form, Alex showed maturity beyond his years, and his displays were ample to sway Wenger in including him in his long term plans.

So, this season, the expectation was there, where previously there was none, yet you could be fooled into thinking that Iwobi hasn’t noticed. He has continued where he has left off, and maybe even shown growth in such a short space of time. 

To be fair, for a yongster learning his trade, is there a better place to be? Every day he turns up to Colney, he has the pleasure of suckling at the teat of greatness in the form of Ozil, Sanchez, Cazorla and others. Players who Iwobi can glean so much from, and it has certainly started to show.

Five goals and four assists in sixteen Premier League appearances (correct at the time of writing) only tells half the tale of the burgeoning talent that is our Number17. 

As a fan, the natural tendency is to err towards bias, but with close scrutiny – and with zero bias – Iwbi’s first touch ranks alongside some of the best at the club, falling just short of Ozil standards. His vision has repeatedly been the key that has unlocked the tightest of defences, and his passing has not been missed by fans watching his every move.

He really has shown that he can cut it at the highest level. All of the above superlatives would be complimentary to a 25-26yr old player, but Iwobi is just 20. 

Standing shoulder to shoulder with our finest players and rightfully belonging in their company, must mean staying grounded is difficult, but the signs are good thus far.

What really stands out, is that Iwobi is this good already, and he has so many formative years left to become an absolute monster of a player. If you consider a growth chart of a child, then put into place the first five years of a players career as the time that builds a players style, strength and touch – then the Nigerian’s end point would be off the scale.

Iheanacho, Rashford and especially Iwobi are destined to make an impact, and their talent is just half of the story. Football players may lead a charmed life in many respects, but the fact they have overcome the tough period that follows their breakthrough speaks volumes.

Alex Iwobi could be a vital part of Arsenal’s future for the next ten to twelve years. He has everything we could ever want from aplayer, and after coming through the ranks at London Colney, the affection he has for the club could be the key to keeping hold of him, because let’s face it – everybody is going to want him.