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Will Alex Iwobi ever grow at Arsenal?

Thursday 8th March 2018

Lionel Messi burst onto the scene as a tender 17-year-old. At 20, he was already Barcelona's star man. It was a similar story for Cristiano Ronaldo. After just two seasons in England, he'd earned demigod status. Dele Alli, Gabriel Jesus, Kylian Mbappe are just a few names amongst many others made significant leap within short timeframes. Meanwhile, faithful in North London's red-half are fervently waiting for Alex Iwobi to fulfil his potential. They may be waiting for an eternity.

Sometime in October 2015, a star was added to Arsenal's somewhat declining galaxy. Iwobi mysteriously charmed Arsene Wenger with a glossy display on his debut against Sheffield Wednesday; so impressive that the Frenchman thrust the teenager straight into his Premier League squad just four days later. As if that wasn't enough, Wenger handed Iwobi a Champions League debut soon after. The winger was living the dream.

Indeed, there was a certain sense of optimism about his emergence. Being the first since Jack Wilshere to crank up Wenger's first team, he was literally worshipped by the fans. His chorus loud enough to reach West Africa from London. Each time he featured, however, the choristers were vindicated.

Given his rapid rise, Iwobi was expected to progress speedily. Many predicted superstardom in a year or two. He had exceptional traits in abundance that were sure to help him through. Skills. Vision. Technique. Tuck in versatility, trickery and link-up play, then you have a well-rounded playmaker. But surprisingly, though, his development has stalled since that breakthrough campaign.

Last season he struggled for game-time and didn't quite do enough when given the opportunity. Although the quality was always there for everyone to see, it came in patches, disturbing to the eyes. Just when you think he's finally reached his finest moment, Iwobi switches off quickly in subsequent games. Besides the usual tricks and skills, he appeared utterly clueless without any purpose.  

The toxic atmosphere around the Emirates hasn't really helped his course, though. Like the Gunners' squad as a whole, the Nigerian's form has been pathetic this term. More often than not, he seems confused with the ball, lost without it. His final pass has been simply atrocious, halting any legitimate offensive move. While his game as a whole is struggling. Finishing continues to be his biggest bane.

Iwobi has been culpable for scuffing shots or failing to get enough velocity on the ball. He isn't bold enough to take games by the scruff of its neck; instead opting for the cheapest way out. Each time he aims at goal, you could almost predict the end product. 18 league appearances have produced a pitiful two goals. Even Nacho Monreal has twice that tally. With each match, it is clear he isn't ready to make the kind of goalscoring contributions required of him. 

At the moment, it seems delusional comparing Iwobi to the likes of Alli, but that wasn't the case a couple of years ago. In fact, the Nigerian was rated above the Tottenham Hotspur star for the 2016 Golden Boy award. While Iwobi has obviously stagnated, Alli has grown in stature with classy displays consistently. Like his mates, he looks too mediocre and lacks the mental strength to make that bold step to the next level. Perhaps a loan spell away from the club could toughen him up a bit. 

Toby Prince

If the sport has 11-men on each side, a ball and lasts for 90 minutes then I'll write about it. Simply put, I'm an unrepentant soccer freak that other freaks will, however, call a geek. I do find time for music when not watching the beautiful game, though and have been known to produce the odd track. 

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