His move from the Arsenal Academy to the Emirates was hailed by many Nigerians as he was seen as teeing the line of Nwankwo Kanu. Though 19 years old, more than a year after making his debut for Arsenal, Alex Iwobi has not become a formidable part of the Gunners family. Kunle Adewale in this report asks if the former England U-21 player can make the same impact like Papilo did under Arsene Wenger
Last weekend, Alex Iwobi came in as a late substitute for Arsenal in their 3-2 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford, which dealt a huge blow on their title ambition. Since graduating from the Arsenal Academy, he is yet to establish himself as an integral part of the Arsenal team.
Iwobi made his official debut for Arsenal in their Capital One Cup fourth round tie against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough Stadium, when Arsene Wenger included the striker in his starting lineup. He had earlier had a taste of first-team football during the Emirates Cup and the tour of Singapore and made the bench for the Capital Cup One clash with Tottenham Hotspur in the third round.
Iwobi is capable of playing on the wing but prefers his favoured attacking midfield position for the most part.
“He is a young lad and he has all it takes. He just needs to work hard and keep his head down and keep pushing so he gets his chance,” Kanu who spent 10 successful years at Arsenal told the clubs official website.
“Football is all about chances and when you have the opportunity you have to grab it. I believe he is going to make his mark. He is from Nigeria and we all support him and love him. He is the star we are looking for. He is going to learn a lot from Arsène Wenger and the club he is playing for – we need him to bring that back home and make sure he can help the national team.
“He just needs to keep his head down and not get carried away with a lot of things. Every day you train, you have to train on your weaknesses. With your strengths, you know them so you have to use them in the game.”
In spite of having represented England at Under-16-17 and-18 levels and captaining Arsenal’s Under-21 side, he accepted to play for Nigeria.
Iwobi, who was born in Nigeria, said, “Ordinarily, I would have loved to play for England since I have played for all the under-aged teams up to the U-19, but Austin Okocha and Kanu have influenced my decision to play for Nigeria. My dad too has told me a lot of things about the honour and pride that goes with playing for Nigeria. So I thought a lot about this and decided to play for Nigeria.”
The 19-year-old is among the most highly rated youngsters in the Arsenal youth setup and has already made his debut in the Super Eagles.
An attacking midfielder capable of playing across the line behind a central striker, Iwobi is likely to draw comparisons with his uncle, 42-year-old Okocha. However, the youngster is keen to do even better than the seven-time Nigerian footballer of the year.
“I grew up in a footballing environment,” Iwobi told the club website. “My dad, my uncle and my whole family love football. I played with a local team with Chuba Akpom; so I grew up with a footballing life.
How much of Kanu or his uncle, Okocha, does Iwobi have in him? Nigerians are waiting to see.
Iwobi is extremely versatile, having played in every position from full-back to centre forward as he’s worked his way through the ranks at Hale End. He can also boast of quick feet and efficiency in possession that makes him tailor-made to fit in Wenger’s system, should his recent progression continue on an upward trajectory.
“I’m delighted to have signed a new contract, especially with a club like Arsenal who are so big,” he told the club’s official website. “I’m happy to sign for them. I like to think I have earned it. I have gone through a lot with Arsenal so to have a new and improved contract is very good and I’m happy to have earned it. I have had ups and downs. As I was growing up I had a lot of downs but as I get older things just keep getting better and better. The ultimate goal is to break into the first team and play as many games as I can.”
But football fans are waiting for him to live up to his vow to not just live up to comparisons with Jay-Jay Okocha but to be better than the Nigerian legend.