Confidence is the key for still young Iwobi
You will have seen the clip doing the rounds during the international break of Alex Iwobi channeling his inner Jay Jay Okocha whilst wearing Nigerian green. As a loose ball drifts towards him, Iwobi runs and in one move lifts the ball over his opponent’s head using the inside of both his heels. The correct scientific term for this is apparently a ‘rainbow flick’.
The 20-year-old is clearly not a man short on confidence. In fact, it is his ability on the ball which has made him such a fixture in the Arsenal team in 2016. Exciting early displays at Everton and against Watford stick in the memory of ones that showcased his talents best. His movement, interchange and intelligence all came to the fore last season despite his inexperience; he represented a breath of fresh air after another eight months or so of frustration from Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain.
By the time August rolled around, it was no surprise to see Iwobi in the starting 11 that kicked off the campaign at home to Liverpool. Injured in the game, he was replaced by Oxlade-Chamberlain over the next few weeks but when the Englishman failed to make an impact, the youngster was reinstated upon his return.
Iwobi produced a man of the match display in the 3-0 win over Chelsea despite not scoring or assisting any of the goals. His movement however was outstanding, dragging Chelsea players left and right and creating pockets of space for the likes of Walcott and Mesut Ozil to exploit. Actually, that performance might be the peak display of Alex Iwobi’s Arsenal career to date.
Since that game at the back end of September, he has remained in the side and been important to the way that the Gunners play. When his link play with Ozil, Walcott and Alexis Sanchez has been successful, Arsenal have generally played well.
Despite his obvious talents, more recent displays have perhaps reminded us that Iwobi is still young and learning in this Arsenal team. He fluffed a big chance in the North London Derby; weakly rolling the ball at Hugo Lloris when a powerful, laced effort would have been preferable and likely resulted in the game’s first goal.
After not featuring at all against Manchester United, on Wednesday night he toiled a little without Sanchez ahead of him. With the Chilean deployed on the right, Olivier Giroud started up front, meaning a first start together for Iwobi and the Frenchman since the penultimate day of last season, a 2-2 draw at Manchester City.
Too often against PSG, Iwobi took a second too long on the ball or uncharacteristically made the wrong decision. One of the things that has perhaps elevated him above Oxlade Chamberlain in the pecking order is his ability to spot the correct pass or know when best to carry the ball. At least twice he picked the ball up, cut inside as he likes to do, but had it intercepted due to slight hesitation. Against this kind of quality opposition, you are not always allowed the extra touch you’d like to take.
It’s hard to be critical of Iwobi because of the positive impact he has made on the side during his short career so far. The fact that he is the first attacking player to come through the ranks and establish himself in the team in a very long time is pretty telling.
But perhaps it’s time to take him out of the firing line a little, relegating him to a place on the bench and seeing if he can have an impact as a sub in a few games. Especially whilst Giroud looks as if he could be back starting games, perhaps the direct style and crossing ability of Oxlade Chamberlain might be more suited. A combination of Iwobi, Giroud and Sanchez in the three attacking positions just doesn’t seem to gel, unfortunately.
Off the bench, Iwobi then can focus on getting back to what he does best; influencing matches. A very smart and dedicated lad, a spell on the sidelines watching play unfold in front of him might be just what he needs. Then he can come on with 25 minutes to go and bring something different to the table when the team might need it.
His morale was clearly down after flicking a header into his own net in the Champions League game – his first goal of the season unfortunately! Consoled by teammates on the bench, it was obvious that Iwobi was not content with his performance and disappointed with his own goal leveler.
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Some may disagree and point to a relatively favourable run of games as an opportunity for him to spark back into life, but you only have to type his name into Twitter to read some foolish critiques of his recent displays. The term ‘Nigerian Pennant’ is an extremely harsh phrase used, and this could be the opportune time to remove him from the ever vocal firing line and allow him some time to reflect. Oxlade-Chamberlain is waiting in the wings eager to impress, so with morale low, this could be the right time to change things up for all parties.
Should Arsene Wenger allow him this, there is a high chance Iwobi will return to the starting 11 reinvigorated, enthusiastic and most importantly, confident.
Welcome to Gunners Town – Joe McPhee!
A lifelong Gunner in his late 20s, Joe can just about remember Bruce Rioch and insisting that his dad took him to away games because he had the lightning blue away kit. Quickly grew up to love Highbury and thanks the Arsenal squads of 1998-2005 for making schoolyard banter a delightful experience. Joe quit his job as a teacher last summer to work in the fantasy sports games industry and writes simply because he enjoys it.