Writing a piece on Arsenal’s new prodigal son was my task and after some thorough research (Googling) it’s refreshing to see that Alex Iwobi’s rise to the big time has been one of humility and calm, as well as the traditional bout of hard work. The young man broke into the team last season, when we were crying out for something to just get us over the line, when as a team we were bereft of ideas, when the likes of Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez had grown tired of ours as well as their own deficiencies. To be 20 years old and be looked to for inspiration by a club with a stature and history such as Arsenal. Astounding that it’s required, but equally astounding that Alex Iwobi was able to step up to the plate.
He played as a striker throughout his time with the Arsenal youth team, but as Wenger does, he was moved into a position where his development was going to be maximised. This isn’t the first time Wenger has done this either – Lauren (RW to RB), Henry (LW to CF), Ljungberg (CF to RW), Ashley Cole (CF to LB), Bellerin (RW to RB). Having broken into the team he gave us another wide option, when all others were a little lost out there. Theo Walcott was hot and cold (mostly cold), The Ox was the same and then injured, Alexis looked frustrated late in the season out wide as his link play with Giroud was almost non existent (the away goal at Man City aside) so our options were running on empty. Empty on confidence, belief and most importantly end product. Alex Iwobi changed all that. He came in and was able to hit the ground running and provided Alexis with the chance to go back to the right hand side, where he played for Barcelona, and in so doing, reinvigorated the team dynamics when going forward. A breath of fresh air in what turned out to be a frustrating season.
This season he’s made an even bigger impact and that’s down to a certain Mr. Wenger. When Arsene sees potential in someone he immediately begins to think of a system that could exploit their talents in the best way. He did it with Thierry Henry by shifting his position and buying complimentary players (Robert Pires), he did it with Cesc Fabregas by changing the shape of he team to accommodate his strengths and he’s done it again with Alex Iwobi. Maybe not quite as directly because through incorporating Iwobi into the side not only does the flank solution look to be resolved, but he seems to be getting the best out of Alexis, Walcott and Ozil through this change. All of the front four thrive off each others’ movement and there seems to be some cross pollination with their understanding of each others’ game. Alexis combines well with wide man Walcott as they can occupy each others positions, Iwobi combines well with Ozil because they trust each other with the ball at their feet (see Walcott goal vs Chelsea) and as well as all of this Alexis and Ozil seem to have moved up a notch in terms of their understanding with each other. This has hugely benefited Iwobi and another turn up for the books that has also pushed him further is the resurgence of Theo Walcott. His work rate and application has definitely made everyone stand up and take notice. People are talking about Walcott and coupled with the way Alexis presses from the front Iwobi is under pressure to maintain that as the final part of the trio. He’s mentioned that the defensive part of his game is something that he ‘hates’ and needs to ‘work on’ over the summer and the pressure to perform on this front has intensified. Nacho Monreal hasn’t been at his imperious best and in the first couple of games this season Alex Iwobi was found wanting in the additional defensive support department. Having seen Walcott and Alexis lead by example, as they should, Iwobi has once again found the minerals to track back, work hard, want the ball and provide an offensive threat. At the young age of 20 he’s showing all the potential he has alongside his already refined technique making him a formidable asset to have.
My absolute favourite thing about Alex Iwobi, however, is his incredibly humble approach to it all. In pre-season he was Tweeting about appreciating the chances you get in life (see here) whilst on tour with Arsenal and even on collecting the MOTM award vs. Chelsea he seemed entirely flabbergasted both in the interview and on social media after the game. He’s got the absolute right attitude to being a young footballer in a world that predominantly revolves around money. It’s refreshing to see such a young footballer speak wise beyond his years, play well and whilst doing so keep his feet firmly on the ground. Who knows how he will be when his stock rises higher and he’s entrenched in the game a little more, but for now he seems to be following the tutelage of Wenger to a letter and is fully reaping the rewards for it.
The great start to his season has been further enhanced through his nomination for the FIFA Golden Boy award, so things are going well. This will undoubtadley be a long season with many ups and downs and young players always go through rough patches as they are far from the finished article, so it will be a case of managing him well across the 45-60 games that we could play across the campaign. There’s no better manager to do this than Arsene Wenger so the #Big17 is in good hands. Let’s hope he has a brilliant season and leads us to some silverware come May.