This may be Iwobi's best chance to build a legacy at Arsenal. Can he seize it?
The once mighty Arsenal, most infamous for the legendary invincibles season where they finished the 2003-04 Premier League season unbeaten and clinched the English top flight’s ultimate prize, find themselves in a rebuilding phase.
Central to that process is the Spanish coach, Unai Emery who came in and got the boys running a little bit harder, literally. As the serial Europa League trophy winner, three times with Sevilla, seeks to implement his methods at the Emirates - he finds himself in a position where he has to wait for the necessary funding to acquire his preferred players and temporarily make do with what and who’s available. One such player is the 22-year-old Arsenal Academy Graduate, who won 190 million hearts by choosing to represent Nigeria when he could have played for England’s Three Lions. The young forward is at a point in his career where he could either grow to be one of the team’s crucial players or slip at it and gets to be shipped off to some mid-table or less popular European club like many of the academy’s graduates. He first broke into the first team at the age of 18 in 2015 and has since scored 12 goals and served up 17 assists in 110 appearances for the club. During Arsene Wenger’s tenure, the Nigerian international was limited to playing first substitute to the world cup winner, Mesut Ozil and at times deployed on either wings to fill in for injured players or for the purposes of rotating the squad. Even then, his potential was palpable to all and had everyone keep their fingers crossed that the kid gets more chances to write his story, perhaps even follow or surpass the milestones reached by other Nigerians before him, I am talking about Arsenal’s Nwankwo Kanu and his uncle, Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha. The latter, who was so good that the Leeds fans found his talent as an explanation for him to be named twice.
In Unai Emery’s first season, Iwobi has already scored as much league goals as any of his past three Arsenal seasons with 3 goals and 4 assists in the league. More importantly, he is already just 3 more appearances shy of the highest total of 26 he got under Wenger for the past two seasons, with more than 10 matches left. Contextually, his 15 starts are actually one more than those of the talisman, Mesut Ozil. It’s all largely due to the fact that Emery’s game plan hinges on having pacey, pressing and direct wingers who can run up and down the pitch, which the club doesn’t have in abundance. Iwobi possesses the required attributes but still struggles in getting the final ball right or clinically finishing chances. Unai has had to be more patient with the forward who played as a striker or an attacking midfielder for the better part of his young career. The Nigerian is likely to continue getting more chances at least until the Spanish manager gets his needed players which gives ample time for the forward to prove he belongs and that he can become a club legend. If he does it right, Emery will probably use the funds to strengthen other areas, especially the almost transparent defence wall, and we will be looking at probably 4 years in his current Arsenal contract of pure domination and Nigerian flair.
The chance obviously has an expiry date and it’s up to Iwobi to beat the clock and claim his place. Will he?