Arsenal: What to do next with Alex Iwobi

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: James Tarkowski of Burnley and Alex Iwobi of Arsenal in action during the Premier League match between Burnley and Arsenal at Turf Moor on November 26, 2017 in Burnley, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
BURNLEY, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: James Tarkowski of Burnley and Alex Iwobi of Arsenal in action during the Premier League match between Burnley and Arsenal at Turf Moor on November 26, 2017 in Burnley, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images) /

Alex Iwobi featured for 75 minutes in Arsenal’s home defeat to Manchester United. What should be done with the talented, but unfulfilled youngster?

It seems like yesterday that a young 19-year-old Academy graduate broke free of the Everton defense and slotted a precise shot past Joel Robles to score the winning goal in a crucial 2-0 victory at Goodison Park.

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Of course, the headlines and back pages were filled with the heroics of the young Nigerian midfielder, who is the nephew of legendary Jay Jay Okocha; fans were certain that the name of Alex Iwobi was going to be remembered at the Emirates for many years to come.

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Fast forward a season and a half, and the name is definitely being mentioned at the Emirates, but not perhaps in the way that would have been anticipated.  After a bright start to life in the Premier League, it seemed that Iwobi’s development has stalled, with Arsene Wenger unable to find the right position to deploy him in.

Starting out as a winger, Iwobi would then be shifted to play in the role of a number 10 in the absence of Mesut Ozil, whilst also being played further down the park in a central role for very brief stints during games. And now seeing him play in a wing-back position raises questions about his ability to progress in the first team.

Whilst having a number of good games, he is yet to have an outstanding man of the match performance. Additionally, despite most of his starts coming as a winger, it was in the number 10 role where he really stepped up, being able to play subtle through balls and link-up well with an attacking front-three. That role, though, has now been scrapped due to the formation change, and Iwobi finds himself fielded as one of the two inside-forwards behind the striker if he’s lucky.

Whilst the now 22-year-old has been in and out of the Arsenal line-up, his place in the starting XI for the Nigerian Super Eagles is cemented. He enjoys a greater freedom to express himself with sumptuous moments of skill and ability, and he has been on the scoresheet four times in 14 appearances, helping the side to qualification for the 2018 World Cup.

His blistering form for Nigeria flies in direct contrast to his stagnation on domestic fronts. And fans are beginning to turn on the youngster, venting their frustrations with his inability to produce consistently.

We see glimpses of his quality that hint at a world-class future. His close control of the ball and ability to free himself from tight situations are his strongest aspects. It’s the inconsistency which frustrates the Gunner faithful, wanting a bigger impact on games and being able to mirror his international form to his club form.

What we are forgetting, though, is that Iwobi is still quite young. He has plenty of time to force his way into the Arsenal line-up. he can still develop into a key contributor to the team. In his first full season with the first team, he was able to rack up three Premier League goals, three league assists, and a Champions League goal against Basel FC to boot.

With only one goal this season in all competitions, Iwobi should be looking produce at a much greater standard. In Iwobi’s own words, he has emphasized his lack of pace, believing he is not as quick as people think he is. And as we have seen this season, his inability to make quick and smart decisions on the pitch, combined with his poor finishing, gives him clear shortcomings to work on this season. He had a good performance over the weekend against Manchester United, but his inability to capitalize on opportunities given to him by the manager is what is really holding him back.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Iwobi can fulfil his potential. It may seem unfair to single out Iwobi like this, but it’s because of the faith shown in him by Wenger. The expectations for him are high. They may seem unfair, but he is the closest thing that Arsenal have to a Marcus Rashford type prospect.

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So what route should be taken with Iwobi? Should he be loaned him out to a Premier League club in the hope of gaining more experience? What position should he be tailored towards? Can he be considered a genuine successor to either Alexis Sanchez or Mesut Ozil? These are all questions that Wenger will have to answer. Only time will tell what he will decide.