All Guns Blazing: One youngster’s progress stands out this season at Arsenal’s academy
- Credit: EMPICS Sport
In our weekly Arsenal fan column, Jeorge Bird assesses the development of Arsenal’s youngsters this year, with a particular eye on Alex Iwobi.
Although many of Arsenal’s results at youth level this season have been disappointing once again, there have at least been several cases of players who have represented the first-team this year having progressed through the ranks at the club.
Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin were both signed as youngsters and currently find themselves as first-choice in their respective positions. Looking a little deeper, Emiliano Martinez, Chuba Akpom, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Gedion Zelalem, Stefan O’Connor, Glen Kamara and Matt Macey have all earned first-team call-ups and will hope for further involvement next season.
Perhaps the most encouraging story relating to the academy this season, though, is the development of Alex Iwobi. The nephew of Nigerian legend Jay-Jay Okocha, Iwobi was previously deployed primarily on the right wing for Arsenal’s youth sides and, whilst possessing a great deal of trickery, was rather inconsistent with regards to end product.
This season, however, he has stepped up a gear, with the youngster scoring an impressive nine goals for the U21s, added to a solitary strike in the UEFA Youth League. Although he is still used on the right flank occasionally, recently Iwobi has thrived since being moved into a central striking position after Chuba Akpom was allowed to go out on loan.
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Iwobi particularly caught the eye as he scored a hat-trick in a victory over Stoke City for the U21s at Emirates Stadium and the Hale End academy product has trained with the first-team squad many times this campaign.
Iwobi has made significant strides on the international front, too. Having previously represented England at youth level, he was invited to train with Nigeria’s U23 team earlier this season and is considered an excellent prospect for the future by the Super Eagles’ coaches.
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At Arsenal Iwobi’s immediate focus next season will be to attempt to bridge the considerable gap between youth team and first-team football. He has already earned two call-ups to the senior squad for competitive fixtures, including for the Champions League trip to Galatasaray this campaign, but he may find that he will have to head out on loan next season to further his development.
How he fares for his temporary club will likely go a long way towards determining his Arsenal future, but his development this season will provide the rest of the club’s youngsters with the knowledge that it is possible to make tremendous progress in a short space of time.
Follow Jeorge @jeorgebird