Alex Iwobi 

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Alex Iwobi of Nigeria

With the Super Eagles of Nigeria one of the favourites to reach the final of the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, Alex Iwobi could miss Arsenal’s opening Premier League game of the season as he would have just 21 days before 

THE NEW SEASON BEGINS

The Africa Cup of Nations ends in Cairo, Egypt on July 19, 2019, just 21 days before the new season begins. Nigeria  are among the favourites to reach the final and Arsenal intend to give all of their players three weeks off after the international duties, which would leave any player involved in AFCON facing a major race to be available for the season opener away to Newcastle on August 11.  

Alex Iwobi was a consistent presence in Unai Emery’s side last season, ranking in the top 10 for minutes played and featuring for longer than Aaron Ramsey, Henrikh Mkhitaryan or Mesut Ozil.

The Nigerian international showed signs of improvement under Emery last season, producing his best return of goals (six) and assists (nine).

Arsenal’s first-team players will begin to return to pre-season training on July 5 ahead of a busy summer which will see them seven friendlies across four countries.

Not all of Emery’s first team will be expected back on July 5 but those who did not take part in any international games this summer – the likes of Mesut Ozil, Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny – will be back at London Colney on that date or later.

Others will make their way back over the following days, dependent on when their involvement in international games concluded.

Emery’s squad will fly to Los Angeles on July 11 to begin an American tour that will also see them play games in Denver, Charlotte and Washington.

Before then they will play Borehamwood in a friendly at Meadow Park on July 6, though the side will be made up of U-23 and U-18 players. Initially, Arsenal had hoped to be able to add a selection of senior players to the squad but their participation in the Europa League final meant that the return date for pre-season training had to be pushed back.

Meanwhile, Iwobi is targetting a second major final in three months at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. After playing a starring role as Arsenal reached the final of the UEFA Europa League where they lost to Chelsea and with that pain still burning his heart, the 23-year-old wants to make amends by having a taste of national glory with the Super Eagles.

“Of course, it is everyone’s dream as a player to win a title. Of course, it was painful losing the final with my club but now I have to focus here. For us as a country there is no bigger title in Africa to win than this (AFCON)) so we will go for it,” Iwobi said.

The winger who grew up in Arsenal’s academy as a kid and picks inspiration from his uncle, Nigerian legend Jay Jay Okocha believes the current Super Eagles squad has a good chance to make history by winning their fourth title.

Iwobi admitted that Okocha had some dribbling skills but sees himself as the owner of the nutmeg skill.

During the just-concluded season, Iwobi dazzled through opposition’s defence on several occasions with his cheeky move by putting the ball between the legs of defenders.

The Nigerian international earned himself the title of the ‘nutmeg prince’ and he is not ready to share the title with Okocha who is considered as one of the best dribblers during his active days, Goal reports.

“I will take ownership of the nutmeg. My uncle Okocha has got the skills but the nutmeg, the prince title they call me for that, I will say it is my ownership,” Iwobi told the NFF media.

“It happens instinctively, sometimes the easiest way of getting past my opponent. I’ve been given a title and I can’t let my people down.”

Iwobi had improved playing time in the 2018-19 season and scored six goals in 51 appearances across all competitions for the Gunners.

He topped his impressive displays by scoring Arsenal’s only goal in their UEFA Europa League final defeat to Chelsea that ended 4-1 but he sees the consolation effort as a motivation to win the European title next season.

“This year, I’ve progressed and I’ve been more composed. It is basically being more efficient in the final third either making the final pass or scoring,” he added.

“There were mixed emotions to score in the (Europa League) final. It is a big achievement but obviously not the result I wanted if I could trade the goal for the result I would.

“It is one of the goals I just have to cherish that would make me hungry to try and win the Europa League next season.”

Iwobi has established himself at the Super Eagles since he made his debut four years ago and he has described his feeling whenever he puts on the national team jersey.

“I have been very blessed to be given the opportunity to play for Super Eagles. I’m always hungry and eager to represent my country and make them proud,” he concluded.

Having won in 2013 under the late Stephen Keshi, Nigeria failed to qualify for the last two editions but have now returned with the hunger to ensure they get back to the king’s table of African football.

“I believe we have the potential because we have a lot of great players. It is not easy but as long as we do our best we will have a chance. We are in a tough group and the first target, of course, is to get out of it and then from there we will take a step at a time,” the Arsenal winger noted.