Does Alex Iwobi perform better for Arsenal or Nigeria?
Football players, if fortunate, represent two teams - club and nation. Born to Nigerian parents, who share a bloodline with former Super Eagles captain Jay-Jay Okocha, Alex Iwobi features for Arsenal and Nigeria.
Iwobi burst on to the scene in 2015 when Arsene Wenger invited him to join Arsenal's senior team for pre-season. The attacker never regressed. Nimble-footed and pacey, he can play anywhere in attack, or as a midfield orchestrator. Iwobi's blessed with the ability to create chances. He's also adept at taking on defenders. The Nigeria international's game lacks a crucial element, however. Goals.
Attacking players are judged on their goal-tally. Iwobi's name became popular in the red half of North London after finding the net in his first two Premier League starts during 2015/16. Many believed that Wenger had unearthed another gem.
He’s (Iwobi) neat and tidy but is not decisive enough. He’s scored more goals for Nigeria than Arsenal this season.
After almost three seasons - nine appearances short of a century for Arsenal - Iwobi has managed less than a goal every ten games. He's struck only eight times. That's a meagre total for an attacker.
Last campaign, Iwobi scored four times in 38 games. After 32 features this term, 24 of which were starts, he's only found the net twice. Although he has contributed six assists, his goal return leaves a lot to be desired.
Iwobi's bluntness at Arsenal, however, doesn't carry over to Nigeria. After earning 14 Super Eagles caps, he's scored four goals. The 21-year-old is halfway to equally his Gunners tally at international level, with 77 fewer appearances.
Keown is right to question Iwobi’s goalscoring prowess for Arsenal. Yet, it’s fallacious to use that as the only yardstick to judge whether he performs better for club or country.
Footballers play significantly more games for their clubs than countries, giving them ample time to study, practice and gain mastery. With better familiarity, cohesion and understanding between teammates, its easier for players to form partnerships at club level.
The situation is different on the international scene. With limited time to prepare for games, managers rely on professionalism over the ability to blend. Nations like Spain and Germany, which select the bulk of their squad from players in the same club, tend to perform best at major tournaments. Furthermore, the world's two greatest talents, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, rarely exhibit club form for their nations.
Indeed, Iwobi must work on his finishing at Arsenal. Wenger, though, in his typical patient demeanour, has continued to provide him with regular game-time. Despite not racking up the stats to keep critics like Martin Keown quiet, the youngster is progressing at the Emirates.
Iwobi has performed brilliantly for Nigeria. Nonetheless, with the Gunners, he's more economical with the ball. More cool-headed. More dangerous. Super Eagles manager Gernot Rohr would probably agree. With Arsenal, Alex Iwobi is superior.