Lionel Messi burst onto the scene as a tender 17-year-old. At 20, he was already Barcelona’s star man.
It was a similar story for Cristiano Ronaldo. After just two seasons in England, he’d earned demigod status. Dele Alli, Gabriel Jesus, Kylian Mbappe are just a few names amongst many others made significant leap within short timeframes. Meanwhile, faithful in North London’s red-half are fervently waiting for Alex Iwobi to fulfill his potential.
Sometime in October 2015, a star was added to Arsenal’s somewhat declining galaxy. Iwobi mysteriously charmed Arsene Wenger with a glossy display on his debut against Sheffield Wednesday; so impressive that the Frenchman thrust the teenager straight into his Premier League squad just four days later.
As if that wasn’t enough, Wenger handed Iwobi a Champions League debut soon after. The winger was living the dream.
Indeed, there was a certain sense of optimism about his emergence. Being the first since Jack Wilshere to crank up Wenger’s first team, he was literally worshipped by the fans. His chorus loud enough to reach West Africa from London. Each time he featured, however, the choristers were vindicated.
Given his rapid rise, Iwobi was expected to progress speedily. Many predicted superstardom in a year or two. He had exceptional traits in abundance that were sure to help him through. Skills. Vision. Technique. Tuck in versatility, trickery and link-up play, then you have a well-rounded playmaker. But surprisingly, though, his development has stalled since that breakthrough campaign.
Last season he struggled for game-time and didn’t quite do enough when given the opportunity. Although the quality was always there for everyone to see, it came in patches, disturbing to the eyes. Just when you think he’s finally reached his finest moment, Iwobi goes off the rails in subsequent games. Besides the usual tricks and skills, he appeared utterly clueless without any purpose.
The toxic atmosphere around the Emirates hasn’t really helped his course, though. Like the Gunners’ squad as a whole, the Nigerian’s form was pathetic last term. More often than not, he seemed confused with the ball, lost without it. His final pass was simply atrocious, halting any legitimate offensive move. Finishing continues to be his biggest bane.
Iwobi has been culpable for scuffing shots or failing to get enough velocity on the ball. He isn’t bold enough to take games by the scruff of its neck; instead opting for the cheapest way out.
Each time he aims at the goal, you could almost predict the end product. 18 league appearances have produced a pitiful two goals. Even Nacho Monreal has twice that tally. With each match, it is clear he isn’t ready to make the kind of goalscoring contributions required of him.
“In Arsenal, you have big, big names. I don’t think he [Iwobi] sees himself in that way,” his compatriot Nwankwo Kanu revealed. “When he comes to Nigeria he feels the pressure: he’s Iwobi, he needs to deliver. With Arsenal, he thinks ‘Ok, there’s other names here, no problem’. He needs to change that.”
Iwobi recently signed a new four-year deal at the club. It’s a sign of Unai Emery’s confidence in the Nigerian’s abilities. Even though there have been very little fruits. The new deal signifies a new chapter in Iwobi’s career – the post-Wenger era.
Like Kanu opined, Iwobi must develop the mentality of a star player. He is no longer that teenager who burst into the scenes three seasons ago. The 22-year-old is now perceived as a leader in the dressing room. He must see himself as one by putting up consistent displays.
Written by Toby Prince
Follow Toby on Twitter @prinzToby
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