Alex Iwobi’s breakthrough is nothing but spectacular, a rise to dominance in the making.
Posted by Featured Articles | Published on September 20, 2016
As another season blossoms, it’s natural that Arsenal Football Club introduce a youngster, an academy product to the first team and integrate them through training and cup competitions. This has happened for a number of years in Arsène Wenger’s reign with the likes of Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin and Kieran Gibbs all coming through the youth ranks with the Gunners and showcasing their abilities within the first team squad.
Arsenal has a very high order of colossal talent coming through their youth ranks, they are well known for their brilliant academy and the clubs willingness to trust younger players, giving them a chance to show the boss what they are capable of.
In 2015, the Arsenal faithful were introduced to the talented Chuba Akpom in pre-season, they were also introduced to the very talented Jeff Reine-Adelaide in the Emirates Cup as he tore down the Wolfsburg midfield and defence with an immense performance, but one talent who has blossomed and become a key player in the Arsenal squad, is 20-year-old Alex Iwobi, nephew of former Nigeria star Jay-Jay Okocha.
In fact, you would have bet a few other young players would have made a breakthrough over Alex Iwobi last season, the Nigerian international hadn’t showcased any dazzling skills beforehand like other young players and wasn’t the standout star in the youth ranks either.
This is proven with the way he made his remarkable breakthrough; he started the 2015-2016 campaign as a backup player for the U21s but kicked on and by the end of the season was captaining the side and displaying outstanding performances, which of course caught the eye of Arsène Wenger. Alex went on to score ten goals in 17 appearances for the U21s, including a hat-trick against Stoke City when he was deployed as a Centre-forward, which just shows the youngsters versatility.
It was initially planned that he would go out on loan this season, but his development has been so impressive that Arsène Wenger has elected to keep him at the club for the time being.
His breakthrough was rather rapid, On 27 October 2015, Iwobi made his first-team debut for the club, starting in a 3–0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in the Round of 16 of the League Cup, this was a rather embarrassing debut by all means but he was still oozing brilliance in Arsenal’s abysmal display.
There was a moment last season, with the ever ending fan pressure on Arsène Wenger, the boss took the opportunity in Arsenal’s struggle to throw in a youngster and hope they repay his ever ending faith, with the Arsenal fans humming and hawing about not having readymade talent to take to the pitch it was certainly a risk by the Frenchman, a risk that went on to pan out perfectly.
His impressive performance allowed him to be introduced to the Premier League just four days later after the Sheffield Wednesday defeat, coming on as a late substitute in a 3-0 away win at the Liberty Stadium, helping the young Nigerian adjust to life in the Premier League. After a short cameo, Wenger saw enough to keep the youngster, by force due to injuries, in and around the first team squad and once again made a late cameo appearance against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, with the North Londoners receiving a German demolition as the Bundesliga champions come out worthy 5-1 winners.
Iwobi wasn’t making an instant impact, he was being introduced to games that were already dead and buried, games he could not turn around and showcase what he is really about, but that’s when the big night at the Nou Camp come.
Arsène Wenger gifted Iwobi a starting role, in a very defeated starting 11 to play Spanish champions Barcelona in the Champions League, saying the starting 11 was defeated may be harsh, but the lineup was far from expected, to say the least.
‘Arsenal are too nice, they are to respectful and light weight to win big trophies’ this is a motto that has circled the club ever since the back end of 2003-2004 invincible season, although Arsenal are yet to win a major trophy since their dominance back then, Alex Iwobi illustrates why he is different to some Arsenal stars who have been labelled light weight.
In big matches especially, Arsenal have been said to be soft, but Alex Iwobi wasn’t fazed about playing the best team in the world on his first start for the club. In fact, he went on to have the audacity to try and flick a ball past the king of football Lionel Messi, he went on to give Dani Alves a very tough night offensively and tracked back very well defensively, for a youngster being given the freedom to express himself he certainly done so, this performance was a breath of fresh air and almost a introduction of what Europe is about to witness, a star in the making.
After a superlative display in Barcelona, Wenger started to have a feel for Iwobi, the youngster started believing even more in his talents, and he was handed a start at Goodison Park, a very tough ground for any club to go to. Once again, the big occasion didn’t faze the Arsenal graduate, he had another wonderful display and scored a terrific goal, celebrating like a ‘gun-man’ and welcoming the Premier League to the ‘Big 45 no safety’. He started to ooze confidence, he went on to score another goal against Watford and already become key in the Gunners attacking play which suited his style to a tee.
Let’s not get carried away, some youngsters come in and fade away from the big occasions from the pressure, but something is different about Alex Iwobi. To the youngster’s credit he has a swagger of play and believes in himself, this isn’t arrogant of the 20-year-old, just simply playing without fear and talking with his feet has found him become a key member of the Arsenal squad, a team of real quality. He didn’t have to get eased in, in fact, he was thrown in head first, and straight away he became comfortable with his surroundings, he knows his abilities, he knows his strengths, but more importantly, he knows he can have an influence on football matches.
Iwobi has been deployed on the left-hand side of midfield but the versatile phenomenon can also play attacking midfield, normally known as the number 10 role which Mesut Özil occupies for the club. But his sense of the pitch is electric, he knows where he has to be, he gets himself there, and he becomes dangerous. I haven’t been so excited about a youngster for years, Iwobi smells danger, the Arsenal man gets himself in positions that players don’t often realise, and these positions are deadly, they are goal scoring chances he creates with simple sublime movement.
Players can be cocky, and they can be confident. Cocky is thinking you’re too good for your own ability, confident is knowing what you’re capable of and being determined to reach your potential. Honestly, you would forget Iwobi is just 20 years old when he is nonchalantly flicking a pass to another teammate or doing step-overs and no look passes to confuse the opposition, something more senior players can even be intimidated of attempting.
Arsenal has had many young players breakthrough that could potentially be the next big thing. For example, the Gunners have had Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, and Jack Wilshere to an extent all come through but fail in nailing down a position and fulfilling their potential, but with this young star, there is a certainty he is destined for greatness. Iwobi has a cool swagger in his end product, he creates chances, assists, scores and can even tackle although this is a trait he certainly needs to work on but these are all things he is close to mastering and his improvement over time will make him even greater.
Something which has been an eye opener thus far in his career is his flair and understanding with Arsenal’s big timer’s Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez. All three players understand each other’s style of play exceptionally and they’re a step ahead of each other meaning they know what each other want to do. This has been key to Iwobi constantly playing and being an impact player for the squad, he has been heavily involved especially with Alexis Sanchez playing the number 9 role, this is telling with the Nigerian already providing three assists in the Premier League this season (the joint-highest in the division) and being heavily involved in Alexis Sanchez’s equaliser against Paris Saint-Germain in the Gunners 1-1 draw at the Parc des Princes last week.
The incredible breakthrough isn’t all as smooth as it has been described. Hard work and dedication to make it with his boyhood club got him into a position only you and I dreamt of being in. In fact, The Hale End product who joined the club whilst in primary school has admitted he nearly got released in his early career, and also spoke about playing above his age level from a young age.
“Well I was on trial at six, and I think I was eight when I signed. I nearly got released when I was 13 or 14, so back then I really didn’t think I would make it here,” he told the club’s official website.
“There was a stage when I wasn’t playing up above my age group, but all the better players were. I questioned myself a lot at that age about whether I was good enough, but I eventually got through it.
“They did keep me on and I guess since then that’s when I really kicked on. I played in the Nike Cup (youth tournament) shortly after that, and then England called me up and things started moving.”
This just goes to show there are fine lines in making it and becoming another player with just potential, maybe the injury-plagued squad which the Gunners, unfortunately, had last season benefited the young man in making it with the club, he went from a young player starting with others to having the freedom of writing his own story, creating his own path, with this just being the beginning.
Alex’s fast movement in his career didn’t go unnoticed internationally either, with native country Nigeria desperate to land his approval to play for them ahead of England who he was also eligible for. Previously capped by England up to U18 level, Alex has since switched his international allegiance to Nigeria, a missed opportunity for England, to say the least.
Arsenal have tied their prized asset down on a long term contract which was signed back in October 2015 with his long-term future looking sealed to be with the North Londoners. The Arsenal’s man rise to dominance is nothing but spectacular, an academy product coming through the ranks is what every club cherishes. Iwobi is a prime example of managers not having to spend millions on ready-made talent, as a solution could be fixed internally. Iwobi has a long career ahead of him and will certainly be key for Arsenal in the years to come, it is interesting to see how he’ll adapt to playing weekly and how he is going to improve in the future… over to you Alex.