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Hrishi Anand writes a detailed scout report about Alex Iwobi, the upcoming forward at Arsenal.
It has to be said that it has been a while since the famous Arsenal academy has produced a talent who has made his way into the Gunners first team squad. The last Arsenal academy product to make the cut in North London was famously Jack Wilshere. The academy seemed to have lost it’s penchant for breeding an English core with equal foreign talent but with Alex Iwobi being given his full Arsenal starts in the Champions League game against Barcelona and the Premier League game against Everton, it looks as if the famous Hale End academy has unearthed another gem.
Born in Lagos, Alex Iwobi is the nephew of Bolton and Nigeria legend Jay Jay Okocha so there is a clear footballing pedigree in his family. Born in 1996, his parents are Nigerians who moved to England. Iwobi has represented England at the U-16, U-17 and U-18 level but opted to represent his country of birth, Nigeria, in international football. He joined the Arsenal academy when in primary school aged 8 and rose through the ranks. He gained recognition when he was selected to travel with the first team for the friendly tournament in Singapore in July 2015 before netting in the Emirates Cup against Lyon in August.
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Featured in 100 to Watch in 2017
Renowned for his versatility, Iwobi has played for the Arsenal youth teams in a variety of positions ranging from full back to centre forward. Although predominantly a winger, much of Iwobi’s success last season came in an attacking midfield role behind the striker. His main attributes are his power and trickery – both of which have seen him draw plaudits from many within the Arsenal camp. The Nigerian-born prospect has impressive physicality for a 19-year-old still in his early years of development.
Arsene Wenger is known to like players who are capable of playing in a variety of positions which was an important factor in Iwobi being handed regular opportunities to train with the first team and play in important games. Iwobi is known for his pace and technical skill as well as his dribbling which makes him potent on either the flanks or through the middle as a playmaker. He also has great vision to pick out passes with confidence and an enthusiastic approach to all the games he plays. His positioning and ability to get into attacking positions is another strength of his. He has also shown his ability to deal with pressure starting for Arsenal alongside stars like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez against world class teams like Barcelona and Everton. His tireless work rate is also something Wenger rates highly as he can be frequently seen carrying out his defensive duties. Efficient in possession and taking on opponents with aplomb, Iwobi has an eye for the goal and composure in front of it. His ability to deal with pressure and ability to maintain composure is admirable for a 19 year old.
Iwobi’s style of play also suits the Arsenal game as he is quite good at linking up with the midfielders and forwards as well as drifting in centrally to play a bigger role in playmaking. He is effective on both wings which is also an important tactic that Wenger adopts. He brings energy and enthusiasm to an Arsenal side which has sometimes been accused of being too lethargic in possession and playing negative football.
While quick, Iwobi is of a light frame which leads to the question of his ability to deal with the rugby-esque physicality of teams like Stoke City. The Premier League is also very physically demanding. However Iwobi is only 19 and has time on his side to add on muscle as how Mesut Ozil did when he struggled to deal with the physicality of the Premier League in his initial years for Arsenal. Iwobi also needs to work on his strike rate, but this is possibly a result of being played in a variety of positions. His lack of goals leads to the question of where his best position actually is. He is also sometimes indecisive with his passing and lingers on the ball.
Iwobi is clearly regarded highly by Wenger with the young Nigerian being handed a professional contract in October 2015. Wenger has also hailed his movement, technical ability and attitude which is a clear showcase of faith from such an experienced manager. The future is bright for Iwobi who, if he continues with his current attitude and performances, could see himself frequently make the first team for Arsenal. Iwobi however has to make sure that he settles upon his favored position to make sure he can sharpen his game. As seen in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, playing in multiple positions may not help in improvement and Iwobi could find himself stuck in a rut like Chamberlain who is another promising winger himself. Arsenal also has world class players from whom Iwobi can learn a lot. Club Legends like Thierry Henry and Robert Pires, who are regulars at Arsenal training sessions and play an important role at the club can also help mould the youngster into a real star. With time on his side, Iwobi should follow the model set by Jack Wilshere to break into the first team squad. He could soon see himself become a star for Arsenal and Nigeria.
It is important that Iwobi does not seek a move away from Arsenal as stability is important for such a young player. Arsene Wenger and Andries Jonker,the U21’s coach could help maintain Iwobi’s career path while Thierry Henry could have a lot to teach Iwobi and could provide valuable inputs. Arsenal fans are very happy that the once famed academy has started producing talents to watch out for again and that Alex Iwobi will make a name for himself in world football in the coming years.
Written by Hrishi Anand.