Premier League

Time for Iwobi to explode and prove doubters wrong

 • by Andrew Gibney
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All too often, when the big games rolled around, Arsenal fans were left wondering why Arsène Wenger continued to pick Alex Iwobi in his starting XI.

In 98 games for the Gunners, the Nigeria international has scored nine times and provided 18 assists and this week he was rewarded with a new long-term contract which ties him up at the Emirates until 2023.

The previous manager obviously saw something in the 22-year-old, who joined Arsenal when he was nine years old. Now, the new man at the helm will be tasked with taking Iwobi’s game to the next level.

One question – which could be deemed harsh for someone still very young in the game – has to be, does he have another level? Has the promising forward shown enough to suggest he is worth a new deal and how can Unai Emery use him to help him blossom?

New manager, new system?

During the pre-season fixtures, the Spanish boss has played a mixture of 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1, given the different nature of both line-ups, you need various types of player to fill the roles.

In Mesut Özil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the new manager, including Iwobi, has four players who can play on the wing, but all bring something different.

The German will likely play either in the middle, behind the striker, or on the right, leaving Iwobi to fight with his Armenian and Gabonese team-mates for the left-wing spot.

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Defensively, although the 22-year-old gives you greater energy and pace to get up and down the touchline, it’s Mkhitaryan who makes the most tackles per 90 minutes.

Surprisingly, though, last season it was Iwobi who made the most accurate passes and key passes from open play, areas you would have pegged the former Manchester United player to have the advantage.

When it comes to creating scoring attempts, getting on the ball inside the box and beating opponents on the dribble, there is not much to separate the two midfielders.

It’s clear from Aubameyang’s statistics, he comes alive inside the penalty area and has little or no interest in creating chances for others, backed up by with 0.08 big chances created per 90.

Mkhitaryan could easily play on the right and as the No.10, switching places with Özil if needed, leaving Iwobi to play on the left.

Still young

Perhaps because he has been around the team and the Arsenal fans have known his name for a long time, the impression is he is older than he actually is and expectations have grown. It was only three years ago he made his first appearance.

“After making my debut in the League Cup against Sheffield Wednesday, Arsène Wenger told me that he wanted to keep me around the first team and give me some gametime in the Premier League,” he told Arsenal.com this week.

“To hear that from such a legendary manager was one thing, but just four days after playing against Swansea, I was playing against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.

“By the end of the season, I’d scored two goals for Arsenal, two goals for Nigeria and had started a game against Barcelona at the Nou Camp. It was crazy to play against the best players in the world.

“It’s a young man’s dream, especially at the age of 19. I never thought I would be playing against the likes of Messi, Suarez and Neymar.”

In 26 Premier League appearances last season, Iwobi scored three times and finished with an xG of 4.11, a total only 0.13 behind the fantastic Leroy Sané, who caught everyone’s attention with Manchester City.

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It shows the type of talent the youngster has, but we are yet to see the very best of him.

Playing 4-2-3-1 suits the Nigerian, especially if Mkhitaryan and Özil are the other starters; Emery will need someone to come off the wing and provide a goal threat in the penalty area, and there’s no one else currently in the squad who can do the same job.

The Spanish boss may be tempted to play Aubameyang out wide, trying to find a way to squeeze both he and Alexandre Lacazette into the starting line-up, but every game won’t be the same.

Iwobi showed in the 2-0 win over Lazio on Saturday night that he has the ability to get shots off with both feet, and his effort which came off the post in Sweden set up the opening goal for Reiss Nelson.

If Iwobi can improve on his three goals from last term, push closer to double figures and give the Gunners fans more reason to believe he has a future at the club, his new deal will be justified and the boy who joined from Hale End Academy could still be on track to becoming a star at the Emirates.

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