In Wenger’s illustrious career as Arsenal boss, he did more than one thing right. Amongst his other qualities, his constant interest and interference in the transfer market and buying unknown talents was probably one of his greatest qualities as a manager. Stan Kroenke and ilk’s poor management tendencies and stingy attitude are known amongst all football fans, yet for Wenger to continue for all these years make him truly commendable. Wenger’s knowledge of football, transfer market, and young talents was pretty good. He had scouted talents like Cristiano Ronaldo, Pogba, Zlatan, to name a few. Due to his tendencies to go after almost unknown players fans were left often wondering if Wenger made the right decision. One such case is Alex Iwobi. The Nigerian international was signed by Wenger and played for Arsenal youth team before being promoted to the senior team in 2015.
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The hype surrounding the player initially had fans go gaga over an exceptional talent available in the club. His start against Barcelona in 2016 UCL had solidified his status and he was widely regarded as the best attacking talent to come from Arsenal in a long time. Cut to 2 seasons later and Iwobi had nothing to show for it. Constantly plagued with injuries as was the norm for any Arsenal player during that time, Iwobi became from a potential world beater to just another overhyped teenage sensation, while his contemporaries like Sterling have continuously grown and can in near future also be considered world class. After last season, it seemed as if Iwobi would be the next Yaya Sanogo, a striker notorious for his misses and with the arrival of a new manager it was speculated that Iwobi’s time with Arsenal was over.
Cut to a new season once again and Iwobi again seems to have regained his confidence. Already a goal up in mere 5 appearances he was awarded and is a constant headache for defenders. In Arsenal’s 5-1 victory against Fulham, he performed a sublime and smooth nutmeg on fullback Christie. Even against Qarbag, he was constantly trying to trick defenders. He has become sort of creative hub for Arsenal attack. While he might not be constantly succeeding in his endeavours, he is slowly becoming the kind of forward who uses flashy tricks to beat his mark and give dangerous passes across the box. His performance for the national team in the recent game against Libya where he gave a defence-splitting assist for a goal. Emery has given him a creative license and a greater freedom to move in the wing and a partial freedom as a free-roaming player. In 370 odd minutes, he has played in Premier League and Europa League he has already scored a goal and 3 assists. While it may not seem much but compared to his performances in the last couple of season it seems like Iwobi has finally come out of stagnation mode and is looking to play proper football. In the match against Watford, Iwobi came as a substitute and was instrumental in the team scoring both the goals.
Given the departure of Sanchez and Arsenal’s lack of depth in the left, Iwobi provides a great option therein. He has the vision and creativity to supply balls from the left and his position as an attacking midfielder for Nigeria gives him the experience to cut inside and operate from the centre. He provides the necessary width to Arsenal’s game while not constantly sitting in opposition box which was expected from goal scorers like Sanchez. The player has credited his new found form to Emery and says the gaffer motivates him to move forward even when it looks like he would fail.
So far into the season, the 22 year old has impressed but the question still remains. Does he have the quality and ambition to maintain this form for the whole season or would he wilt away like the players before him?
By Srinivas Venkat