Arsene Wenger sprung a surprise with his team selection on November 5th as the Gunners took on runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City. Nigerian Alex Iwobi was handed a rare start and given a chance to impress at the Etihad Stadium by his manager with big money signing Alexandre Lacazette left on the bench.
The 21-year-old had also been touted to possibly fill an unfamiliar wing-back role during the build-up if former Schalke man Senad Kolasinac failed to pass a late fitness test but the defender was able to start the game and managed to play a full 90 minutes with Iwobi given license to roam further forward.
|Source: Alexander Iwobi via Twitter|
Iwobi featured on the left hand side for the North London side alongside Mezut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez as part of a front three with many fans surprised about his inclusion in the eleven. Sadly, Wenger's men found Manchester City too good and were defeated 3-1 by Pep Guardiola's men.
The irrepressible Kevin De Bruyne opened the scoring for the Citizens with a trademark low strike before a Sergio Aguero penalty doubled their lead in the second half. Substitute Lacazette managed to halve the deficit with 25 minutes left on the clock and gave the travelling fans some hope of a comeback but it failed to arise as the visitors asserted their dominance once again with Brazilian Gabriel Jesus restoring City's two-goal advantage with a powerful finish from close range.
The pacey Arsenal number 17 lasted 78 minutes before being replaced by Jack Wilshire who was handed a 12 minute cameo following his impressive UEFA Europa League display just four days earlier during the goalless draw with Red Star Belgrade.
It was just Iwobi's fifth Premier League appearance of the campaign and he hasn't featured since Arsenal's disappointing 2-1 reverse at the hands of Watford on October 14th. He played a full 90 minutes against the Hornets who mounted a late comeback to pile yet more away day misery on the Gunners at Vicarage Road. Unfortunately, he's featured in just one victory for his side this season although he did manage to get on the score-sheet at the Emirates during his team's 2-0 success over Premier League newcomers Brighton.
He has been left in a state of flux this season with first-team appearances few and far between having seen just 330 minutes of first team action, however, he isn't featuring regularly in the Europa League either. Arsene Wenger has been using the competition as an excuse to test out a number of fringe players with the likes of Olivier Giroud, David Ospina, Theo Walcott and the aforementioned Jack Wilshire all featuring heavily this season alongside Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Rob Holding. Despite a huge number of changes, Arsenal have already secured their passage to the knock-out stage after taking 10 points from their first four matches in Group H.
Arsenal are Champions League regulars but following an under-par Premier League campaign last season have had to settle for Europa League football.
The tournament winner will automatically gain entry to Europe's elite club competition and the Gunners are progressing nicely. Their fine start coupled with AC Milan's inconsistent performances has seen them become favourites for success in the Europa League and have provided punters wanting to use one of the free bet offers outlined by Oddschecker a reasonable option as they aim to reach the final.
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Alex Iwobi featured 26 times last season during an impressive breakthrough campaign and netted on three different occasions with all of those strikes arriving during home games but with just five appearances so far this campaign he is no longer a guaranteed starter. This time around he's also featured in the Premier League 2 playing 90 minutes during Arsenal's 5-2 success over Reading Under 23s.
He must be wary of a number of fellow academy graduates who are starting to break into the Arsenal team and he must add consistency to his game if he is to maintain his place ahead of the likes of Chuba Akpom, Ryan Nelson and Eddie NKetiah. The latter made a name for himself in a recent EFL Cup tie with Championship outfit Norwich with the 18 year old finding the net twice to secure his team's passage to the next round of the competition. The Lewisham-born star has been backed by former Gunners striker Ian Wright for success at the club with the pundit also describing Iwobi as 'fizzling out a bit' since his breakthrough.
There have been a number of positive performances for Iwobi so far this season with many Arsenal fans reflecting on his energetic display deputising for Mezut Ozil during the club's much deserved goalless draw at Stamford Bridge on the 17th of September. His pace helped the Gunners press and give Antonio Conte's men little time on the ball. Wenger's side rattled the woodwork and saw a Shkodran Mustafi's header chalked off and can be considered unlucky not have taken more than a single point back across the capital.
He told the London Evening Standard earlier this year that he had been working on his finishing admitting that "People in my position were doing much better than me in that aspect of the game...and that's something I had to work on". Wenger agreed with the 21 year old's honest assessment telling the media "what you want from him is the final balls and goals as well" following his strike against the Seagulls before laying down the gauntlet by adding "A player like him must score 10 goals this season and he must give between six and ten assists as well".
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He did force Ederson into a good save at the Etihad with the Portuguese goalkeeper spilling his initial effort before desperately clinging on to the ball ahead of the incoming Aaron Ramsey but he wasn't able to grab his second of the season.
His contribution in other areas of the field hasn't gone unnoticed with his ability to cut in from the left hand side causing problems for opposition defenders on a regular basis and he isn't afraid to track back and help out the full backs. Former Spurs striker Les Ferdinand picked Iwobi out as his man of the match during the defeat against Manchester City describing the youngster's performance as 'fearless' before lamenting a number of his team-mates.
Whilst his time at Arsenal may have suffered from inconsistencies and has been a bit stop-start of late, there is little doubt about his contribution on the International stage.
During the Qualifiers at the beginning of October, Iwobi helped Nigeria secure their place in next summer's World Cup which is to be held in Russia. The Super Eagles saw off Zambia to become the first African side guaranteed a place at the tournament which begins in Moscow on June 14th 2018. That narrow and nervy victory also ended any hopes of Zambia qualifying for their first ever World Cup.
Iwobi was the hero as he found the net for Salisu Yusuf's side and barring injury, the match-winner is pretty much guaranteed a place on the plane. It left Nigeria clear at the top of CAF Group B and they can start planning for the summer tournament. Egypt soon followed suit and became the second African team to secure their qualification courtesy of a late Mo Salah penalty with the Liverpool winger's ice-cool spot-kick sparking mass celebrations as the North African side booked their place at the World Cup for the first time since 1990. Other sides to feature at the tournament include Panama, Serbia, Iceland, Colombia and Costa Rica.
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He came off the bench to bag the winner for his side and he will be hoping his decisive contribution has been enough to earn him a start during the Super Eagles matches against Algeria and Argentina during the November International Break.
He's found the net twice (both strikes coming against the same opposition) in just 189 minutes on the pitch during the qualification campaign and many Nigerian football fans are calling for him to start more games. He must aim to displace Gent's Moses Simon in the team with the coach praising the amount of competition within the squad.
They've amassed 13 points and are unbeaten during this qualification campaign suggesting a positive spirit in the camp and Iwobi can benefit from playing alongside the vastly experienced midfielder Jon-Obi Mikel and fellow Premier League players such as Victor Moses and Wilfred Ndidi. Hull loanee Ola Aina also made his international debut during the October qualifiers.
Iwobi is still only 21 years old and he still has plenty of time to develop. Getting Premier League football under his belt can only help his progress but he must ensure he doesn't fall out of favour and down the pecking order as a result. Arsenal have started the campaign in inconsistent fashion and they are struggling to pick up results on their travels. They've won just one of their first six matches on the road and have shipped 12 goals during that underwhelming run of fixtures. They currently have a number of absentees including Shkodran Mustafi, Santi Cazorla and Danny Welbeck but Wenger's side must make themselves harder to beat on the road and must aim to replicate that impressive defensive display against Chelsea.
Expectations around the Emirates have risen as a result of a number of successful seasons and continued qualification for the Champions League. Despite a late rally which saw them thump Stoke and ease past Everton, Southampton and relegated Sunderland they weren't able to break into the top four and finished behind near-neighbours Spurs for the first time since the late 1990s.
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Arsenal fans regularly find a scapegoat during below-par performances and luckily for Iwobi, he has largely escaped criticism so far. German International Mezut Ozil has come under scrutiny, particular during games against fellow top-six opposition and he is yet to sign a new contract with the club.
The playmaker has been linked with a move to Manchester United this year and many supporters are concerned about the fact he has not committed to the club at the time of writing. If the 29 year old is to leave for pastures new, it could open up the opportunity for Iwobi to tie down a regular starting position. He has largely relied on Ozil's absence so far this campaign but with Thomas Lemar heavily linked with a move to North London, he must ensure his fleeting appearances are used to make a decent case to Arsene Wenger and the Gunners fans.
Ozil is undoubtedly one of the most creative players in the Premier League and the statistics back it up. He regularly provides assists and creates numerous chances yet his laid-back style and seemingly casual approach makes him the subject of criticism from fans and pundits alike. Having previously worked under Mourinho, he may wish to team up with the Portuguese boss once again at Old Trafford.
Iwobi looks set to continue his development although this season has been somewhat frustrating for the 21 year old. Having stood out against the league leaders on November 5th, he'll be hoping he's done enough to convince Arsene Wenger to start him on a regular basis. With just one goal to his name so far, he must offer a little more in that department but there is little doubt about his overall contribution to the side. Arsenal have a number of commitments this season and Iwobi is likely to play a crucial part but he can't afford to become complacent. His success on the International stage could put him in the shop window next summer as he seeks to fulfil his potential and continue to go from strength to strength. YOU MIGHT ENJOY READING