12 months ago, Alex Iwobi was the golden boy at the Emirates. He had been awarded the man of the match award for his performance in Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Chelsea, and he was looking like the next big thing. A year later, he is one of the most derided characters at the club, receiving unjustified criticism from large sections of the ground every week.
As fans, Arsenal have always looked after their own. Jack Wilshere’s heart on his sleeve attitude has made him the most popular man at the club, even when he’s not playing. Carl Jenkinson was backed, despite clearly lacking the talent to play for the club; simply because he was a Gooner. So, why does Iwobi not receive the same treatment?
On the ball, Iwobi is as good as any other player in the Arsenal team. His touch is fantastic, he has the strength to hold players off the ball and on top of it all, he puts a shift in. Like Wilshere, he has the ability to change the pace of the game with one turn in the middle of the park, and play someone in on goal due to his passing ability and excellent vision.
These strengths are all rare for such a young player, and that’s what people seem to forget. Iwobi is a young player. He’s still learning and developing, and it will take time for him to become the finished article, which will come when his end product improves.
This is arguably where he draws the most criticism. When he gets into the final third, his end product can be lacklustre. In front of goal, he’s hesitant, and his shots lack power, leading to a poor goal return. The same occurs when he gets into a crossing position. He holds onto the ball far too long, trying to lift it over a crowd onto the head of a red shirt, rather than fizz it in with pace.
At his best, Iwobi moves freely behind the striker, swapping wings and moving into the number 10 position, which Thierry Henry said is his best position. Operating in this style takes confidence, and you need to be delivering to be afforded that kind of freedom, especially when playing next to Ozil and Sanchez, who do the same.
With the fans on his back every time he steps onto the pitch, his confidence will continue to suffer. The fans need to get behind him and afford him the same courtesies that have been handed to other young stars, because Iwobi has all the makings to be a top class player, he just needs time. Unfortunately, in the modern game, time is something that is not given to anyone.
Iwobi will improve his end product. Playing with top quality around him will help that, but getting behind him will go a long way too. Anyone who has watched him play for Nigeria will see that, so stop groaning and shouting when he makes a mistake, and get behind this talented Academy product!