All Guns Blazing: Impressive Alex Iwobi still has a long way to go
15:11 12 January 2016
In our weekly Arsenal fan column, youth expert Jeorge Bird looks at the club’s skilful young Nigerian international in light of his weekend FA Cup performance.
Alex Iwobi’s display in Arsenal’s FA Cup triumph over Sunderland would have been deemed impressive in any circumstances, but the youngster’s performance was even more commendable given that he was deployed in a position that up until a few months ago was alien to him.
As he progressed steadily through the ranks at Arsenal’s academy, Iwobi started to garner a reputation for being a bright talent, but he was almost always used in attacking positions, either out wide or up front.
In recent months, however, the Nigeria international has been utilised in central midfield and he has relished the challenge of testing himself in that position.
An astute distributor of the ball, Iwobi mainly played safe passes against Sunderland, but, on the rare occasions that he did venture closer to goal, he provided some tantalising glimpses of his dribbling skills and his ability to cause problems for opposing defenders.
Iwobi caught the eye of manager Arsene Wenger with some fine displays for Arsenal at Under-21 level last campaign and then took that good form onto the senior stage in pre-season as he scored against Lyon in the Emirates Cup.
He impressed sufficiently to remain on the fringes of the first-team squad and has now amassed six competitive appearances at senior level, having featured in all four major competitions.
With Arsenal still deprived of the services of several first-team players through injury, Iwobi is likely to continue to work closely with the squad in case he is needed to provide cover.
The 19-year-old’s new-found versatility has earmarked him as a useful option to keep around and, as a consequence, Iwobi is unlikely to be sent out on loan until next season.
The youngster must be wary, however, that for all the strides made in his development this season, he still has much to do.
Several prospects have impressed fleetingly in the first team before fading into insignificance and Iwobi will hope to avoid a similar fate.
Wenger praised Iwobi after the game and the initial signs of how the youngster has adapted to the pressure of first-team football have been very encouraging.
However, Iwobi will certainly need a productive loan spell next season to reach the next level and fulfil his dream of becoming a first-team regular at Arsenal.
Follow Jeorge on Twitter @jeorgebird