Aubameyang shows enduring class but is Iwobi the winger that Arsenal needs?
Arsenal got off to a flying start in the 2018/19 Europa League campaign under the management of “Europa King” in Unai Emery who won the cup three consecutive times with La Liga side, Sevilla. The Gunners were in total control in the match against Ukrainian side, Vorskla that finished 4-2 at the Emirates courtesy of two goals from the Gabonese international, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, one from Danny Welbeck and Mesut Ozil also getting his name on the scoresheet for the second game running. It was a great team performance but two of the names that stood out were obviously Aubameyang and Nigerian international, Alex Iwobi.
The story of Arsenal’s “failed” wingers
For a while now, the North London club has been in search of an out and out winger that has become increasingly important in Unai Emery’s philosophy, the heir apparent to Arsene Wenger’s throne. The Spaniard has introduced a high pressing game at the Emirates that hinges on having an intense attacking midfielder that runs at the opponent and forces mistakes and a pacey, similarly unrelenting midfielder in pressing the opponent who also knows how to cover the defensive full-back. This has seen Emery playing Aaron Ramsey in the number 10 role in recent matches ahead of Mesut Ozil who has been deployed on either of the wings, simply because of Aaron’s pressing style and better work-rate. The 2014 world cup winner has still managed to string through a couple of excellent performances even though being played out of his favorite position including an arguably man of the match performance at Newcastle in the Premier League match-day five. However it always looks obvious on the pitch that Mesut becomes a completely different player more he goes central leaving the wing position still with no proper takers. The Armenian captain, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has also been regularly played on the right hand side of the wings which has worked just okay but still comes up short in providing defensive cover to the right back, Hector Bellerin simply because Mkhi is simply not a natural winger. The winger problem is no secret as the club was clearly on high alert for natural flankers with the likes of Bayern’s Kingsley Coman, Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele and RB Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg being consistently rumored to join the Gunners in the summer transfer window.
Now, Arsenal faithfuls were mostly definitely encouraged by one of Africa’s hottest young football talents on Thursday night. Perhaps they have what they have always been looking for in the 22-year old Nigerian international.
Big 17, Running up and down the wing
Iwobi has hardly put a foot wrong whenever he came on for Arsenal in this 2018/19 season and the story was no different in the Europa League. He got his first start under Unai Emery in the 3-2 loss to Chelsea at stamford bridge in an applaudable performance which they were unlucky not to get at least a point from. “Big 17” as he calls himself, was a constant menace on the left wing, getting the better of Chelsea Captain Cesar Azpilicueta, even creating Mkhitaryan first goal by pulling off some lovely dribbles before he crowned the performance by a goal of his own, finishing from close range after a great football move of 19 straight passes by the Gunners with no reply by the Blues. Most know what happened afterwards, the Nigerian shaku-shaku dance by the young forward told the story of his form and confidence.
Similarly, it was business as usual against Vorskla, his third start under Emery after the West Ham United appearance where he was substituted early into the second half for reasons Emery knows best as he had been quite decent. Iwobi neatly setup Aubameyang’s first goal in a flowing Arsenal move started by Mkhitaryan, hit a powerful shot from a few yards out of the box that curled off the post, completed two crosses and created at least four chances in only seventy minutes. He was the quickest running forward, unrelenting in tracking back the few times he had too, confident in his dribbles, taking on defenders directly and simply explosive if I were to use a single word to describe his performance. The Arsenal faithfuls seem to agree with me, calling him out as a man of the match by a mile. The official Arsenal twitter account couldn’t afford to ignore the Nigerian's performance offering plaudits for his excellent stats in 1 goal, 2 assists in only the three matches for the Gunners this campaign.
Emery may still be in the process of figuring out his best XI but Alex Iwobi looks like a name he will have a hard time ignoring.