Alex Iwobi is the latest academy graduate from Arsenal’s Hale End Academy and one the Gunners will be looking to rely on in the coming seasons. TheHardTackle profiles the Nigerian teenager, whose unique style of play and intelligence has seen him emerge as this season’s breakthrough teenager.
“He has all it takes,” former Arsenal striker Nwankwo Kanu stated in a recent interview with Arsenal Media. “He needs to keep pushing until he gets his chance. Football is all about chances and when you have the opportunity you have to grab it”. And how Iwobi has done that!
After impressing with the youth squad and making numerous appearances on the bench – including in last season’s match at Galatasaray in the Champions League –the Arsenal man first gave fans a glimpse of his undeniable talent in pre-season, when he was a surprise inclusion in the Arsenal squad that travelled to Singapore.
In the Emirates Cup he netted a stunning goal and after continually mesmerising for the under-21 side, particularly in a top class performance against Dortmund in the UEFA Youth Cup which included a long-range goal, Iwobi finally made his full competitive debut in the League Cup against Sheffield Wednesday. Four days later, he made his Premier League debut.
The promising Lagos-born attacker displayed moments of brilliance in each of his matches and it was clear to see why Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger entrusted him with such responsibility, as he grew in confidence with every passing game under his belt.
In January, Arsenal handed Iwobi a new long-term contract, another demonstration of their faith in the 19-year-old’s potential. Two months later the starlet was named in the starting lineup ahead of Theo Walcott in the do-or-die match against Barcelona at the Nou Camp, where he put in a solid and mature performance, sending out a very clear message to onlookers worldwide.
This was followed by his first start in the league against Everton at Goodison Park, where he found himself on the scoresheet in his best match in the Arsenal shirt so far. After magnificently controlling the ball in the air, Iwobi slotted it past the onrushing goalkeeper and into the empty net, helping him claim the man-of-the-match award.
Playing style: Iwobi is a mix of Patrick Vieira and Alexis Sánchez
The Arsenal man is exceptionally versatile, having been used in virtually every position on the pitch. The club’s youth coaches have experimented to find his most effective position to utilise his blistering pace, balance and temperament. Recently though, Wenger has played him in an attacking-midfield role instead of a forward one, due to his ability to find pockets of space and this is where he has shone the most. However, that is not to say the young forward cannot finish — the top prospect has an instinctive feel for situations, which helped him rack up 10 goals in just 17 starts for the youth set-up last season.
Iwobi also sees things before most, allowing him to travel with the ball smoothly as well as link up with his teammates in an almost seamless manner. He is excellent at receiving passes on the half-turn and likes to be progressive with his distribution.
On the international scene, Iwobi made his senior debut for Nigeria on October 8, 2015 after representing England at the U16, U17 and U21 level. He made his competitive debut in a 1-1 draw against Egypt on March 25 and played again in the reverse fixture four days later. His encouraging performances have reinforced the view that Iwobi has a maturity that is beyond his years.
Iwobi’s uncle, the great Jay-Jay Okocha, took to Twitter to express his delight at his nephew’s progress, while Wenger heaped praise on the young Nigerian, calling him ‘intelligent’ and describing him as ‘quickly improving’.
So pleased with Alexi’s performance this afternoon. Delighted he got his first premiership goal.. So proud of him. Wel-done Ojiogwu
— Jay-Jay Okocha (@IAmOkocha) March 19, 2016
Tactical analysist Adrian Clarke went one step further and titled him as a ‘powerful young footballer with lovely balance’, while Arsenal fans have begun comparing him to Thierry Henry.
Meanwhile Andries Jonker, the head of the academy at Arsenal, called him ‘the perfect player’, with club captain Mikel Arteta acknowledging the bright future ahead for the young striker.
Despite his meteoric rise, Alex Iwobi looks like a young man right at home in the Gunners’ first team.
– guest piece by Omar Al-Ouf