9 October 2017
By Thaddeus Jude
Alex Iwobi is on the brink of a career breakthrough and he looks perfectly poised to seize his opportunity with both hands.
Having been injured for some time now, the Nigerian attacker has recovered well from his injury and contributing important goals for both club and country.
Despite breaking into the Arsenal first team as the next big thing, Iwobi has had his first team opportunities limited this season, largely due to the impressive array of talents available to Arsenal in attack.
At the moment, Iwobi has failed to generate the kind of excitement that Iheanacho has among Nigerians even though he is odds on to become far more important to our national team than the Leicester City forward. But his dawn is just on the horizon and this year might very well be the year Iwobi moves from exciting prospect to Nigeria’s go to guy.
At club level, Arsenal’s most valuable player, Alexis Sanchez is unlikely to stay beyond this season as his contract expires in the summer and the Chilean has refused to put pen to paper.
In fact, Arsene Wenger has overseen a rather turbulent transfer window with several key players pushing for moves away from the club and some actually succeeding. In the midst of this, the few bright spots have been the form of record signing, Lacazette and Iwobi showing that he can step up when the need calls for it.
He’s the first player to come through Arsenal’s academy to the first team in a long time and Wenger knows he can count on him to give one hundred per cent whenever he is called upon. With Sanchez set to leave at the close of the season, the Frenchman might well turn to his Nigerian prodigy.
At international level, Iwobi is definitely the next big thing for Nigeria. For several years now, the Super Eagles have been crying out for a proper playmaker, someone in the mold of the iconic Jay Jay Okocha or Wilson Oruma and our prayers have been answered with the coming of Iwobi.
Granted that Iwobi doesn’t have the skills and inclination to constantly do tricks and put opposition defenders on their backsides, he nonetheless has the vision, calm, poise and technical ability to function in this role for the Super Eagles.
Against the Chipolopolo of Zambia, Nigeria were lacking a cutting edge in attack and were generally too rushed in their play; add that to the suboptimal decisions taken by our forward players time and again and you could feel the frustration mounting.
Throughout this qualifying campaign, our defense has been impeccable, and we’ve generally used the brute strength of Ighalo to bulldoze opposition defences into submission.
On Saturday, however, the Zambian defense matched Ighalo all the way and the need for a bit more guile and craft became apparent.
Rohr chose to bring on Mikel Agu when Onazi was injured but the midfielder’s sloppy passing nearly cost us. We were being overrun in midfield until he brought on Iwobi and even though he was instructed to play on the right wing, his introduction immediately calmed the game and put us back in control of proceedings.
He frequently tucked in from his wide right position to help us overload the midfield and buildup in a more stable manner; he also moved wide when necessary to find space and stretch the Zambian defense.
Nigeria never really looked a sustained threat until he came on. His passing and movement was far more accurate than anything we had seen from the Super Eagles to that point and it was only destiny that he should be the one to score the winner, again tucking into a central position to deliver the killing blow.
Having booked our place in Russia, Rohr’s attention must now turn to building a team that can actually compete with the big boys.
A complaint we’ve had about the current team is the over rigidity of the midfield three with little or no creativity coming from there. With all due respect to Mikel, he is not an attacking midfielder and will never be one; the lack of central creativity means that we’re usually forced to progress the vast majority of our attacks through the flanks and while this is good considering the pace and quality of our wingers, it generally leads to an over dependence on crossing which is a suboptimal way to attack considering the low conversion rates from crosses.
When we come up against more organized teams in Russia, we’ll need to have an alternative way to open them up and Iwobi gives us that option without a doubt. If deployed centrally, and protected by Indidi and Mikel or any other defensive midfield combination Rohr comes up with, Iwobi can be our playmaker supreme, a silky superstar that unlocks defences with ease.
In the knockout stages, when we come up against offensively superior teams, his versatility means he could then be moved out to the wings, allowing us to pack the midfield while not sacrificing creativity as he would still be able to create from there.
Iwobi is destined for greatness and is in many ways the answer to our prayers. If the coaches can make good use of him, he’ll follow in his uncle’s footsteps and become a legend for the Super Eagles, and maybe for the Gunners as well.