Since the departure of Super Eagles striker, Kanu Nwankwo from Arsenal in 2003, there have been no Nigerian players who have found themselves fitting enough to continue from his heroic performance in London.
Twelve years later, a new breed has been discovered and given the opportunity to rub shoulders with the super stars such as Mesut Özil, Alexis Sánchez, Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey and that player is Super Eagles’ Alex Iwobi.
Prior to his promotion to the senior team where he has become a regular starter, Iwobi was a member of the Arsenal Youth Team for four years before his break through this season.
The Nigerian international, who has pledged his allegiance to the Super Eagles rather than the Three Lions of England, is a player who represents the very best of his manager. He is young, intelligent and versatile; an academy product with over a decade at the club who possesses luminous talent. He has grown up at Wenger’s Arsenal and his expert technique and creative problem-solving in the final third are products of this very specific education.
Although former Arsenal midfielder, Cesc Fàbregas remains the ultimate example of Wenger’s willingness to trust in youth and his precocity at just 16 will likely not be matched for some time, but in the group just behind the Spaniard, Iwobi is one of the best young players who have seized the chance given to them by Wenger: a line running from Nicolas Anelka, through Robin van Persie and Jack Wilshere to Héctor Bellerin.
After making his debut in the round of 16 of the League Cup against Sheffield Wednesday, October 27, 2015 Iwobi has since been thrust into the first team in a major way after the 2-1 FA Cup quarterfinal defeat to Watford on March 13, which effectively extinguished Arsenal’s last realistic hope of a trophy. Despite the FA Cup debacle, Iwobi is now the most obvious source of optimism at a club which is desperately scrabbling around for something to cling on to.
In two successive Premier League games he scored against Everton, scored and set up Alexis Sánchez against Watford and chalked up two assists against West Ham, making 21 appearances for the Gunners this season in all competitions.
Interestingly, his performance this season has seen him allowed for an improved contract which will see him earn £30,000 per week from a five-year contract compared to last October’s contract worth around £10,000 a week until 2019 Iwobi is on the rise.
Barring a superstar signing or two over the summer it is hard to see how Iwobi’s rise will be slowed. Of the competitors for his position, Theo Walcott doesn’t possess anything like Iwobi’s football brain and potential. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a clever, versatile player but cannot at present compete with Iwobi’s final product and Joel Campbell has had a better season than many would have expected but doesn’t seem to command Wenger’s faith in the same way Iwobi does.