Arsenal

Arsenal's new creator-in-chief deserves starting spot

 • by Mark Thompson
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In August, Arsenal and Nigeria legend Nwankwo Kanu threw down the gauntlet for Alex Iwobi.

“When he comes to Nigeria he feels the pressure: he’s Iwobi, he needs to deliver,” Kanu said. “With Arsenal he thinks ‘ok, there’s other names here, no problem’. He needs to change that.”

So far this season, it looks as if Iwobi has taken on that advice. He already has three assists in the Premier League and Europa League in just over 300 minutes, the equivalent of 3.43 full matches.

There aren’t many around who average an assist a game, even across such a short timespan. So what’s changed for the Arsenal academy graduate?

Looking for Chuba

Being a creator rather than a goalscorer has always been the way Iwobi plays.

“Because I’m from a football family, I started playing from a young age. I was spotted by Arsenal when I was at Rippleway with Chuba Akpom,” the Nigerian-born attacking midfielder explained in an article for the club website.

“Back then it was simple: I’d look for Chuba and he’d score.”

Iwobi’s current rate of assist-making is a big jump from previous seasons, where he’d been consistently around the one-in-four level in the Premier League.

And the good news for Arsenal is that the signs suggest this boost in production is here to stay. In those 309 Premier League and Europa League minutes he has created five big chances for team-mates. That rate of 1.45 per 90 minutes is Europe-leading.

Chelsea star Willian, for example, is at 1.1 per 90 minutes; Lionel Messi manages 0.95; and Kylian Mbappé produces 0.93.

That trio have all played more than Iwobi so far this season, meaning their figures are less likely to be skewed by having one particularly good game, but it forms the context for how good the Arsenal player’s performances have been in 2018/19.

A starting spot for Iwobi?

In seasons past, Iwobi always appeared to have the talent required to shine in the Premier League. But he was never able to regularly use his talent to create and score goals.

However, with a far greater end product to his game now, there’s a reasonable argument for him deserving a place in the starting line-up at the Emirates.

Where exactly that would be is hard to work out, though. As a recent Three Minute Myths episode noted, the way Unai Emery has organised his attack has already moved several players out of their best positions.

The benefit of the current system for Iwobi, though, is that it contains two goalscorers.

Not only does it give him two frontmen, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, to provide for but it means there’s less pressure on him to score goals. Freed of that responsibility he should be able to play his natural creative game.

Bringing Iwobi into the starting XI would mean, though, dropping either Aaron Ramsey or Mesut Özil, either of which would be a big call for the manager to make.

However, it would be a decision Emery could certainly justify as both players are struggling this season; Ramsey in a new role and Özil’s performances have been stalling for more than half a year.

Iwobi often plays on the left, which is where Aubameyang has been deployed in recent weeks by Emery. But the the 22-year-old’s performances have been so good this season that he deserves a chance to shine, even if that means putting him out on the right.

“Just because you’re younger than the other players doesn’t mean you’re not a star,” Kanu added when discussing about Iwobi. “He’s a star in his own right.”

It’s time to give this star the chance to shine.

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