Unai Emery is breathing new life into Arsenal and few players appear more rejuvenated than Alex Iwobi.
The attacking midfielder was never around long enough to grow tired and weary under Arsene Wenger in the same manner as many of his senior team-mates, but as a young player looking to weave his way towards the epicentre of the squad, the Nigerian international always seemed to lack the necessary drive, belief and purpose when Wenger was at the helm.
There were plenty of underwhelming performances, not to mention the off-field fiasco surrounding Arsenal’s elimination from the FA Cup at the hands of Nottingham Forest last season, but Iwobi has grown quickly under Emery’s guidance, seemingly given a little more direction and a little extra precision in what exactly he’s expected to bring to this Arsenal side.
More pertinent than that though, has been a greater willingness to take responsibility. After going two goals down to Chelsea, it was Iwobi who began causing the problems down the left flank that eventually lead to Arsenal levelling at Stamford Bridge.
And once Leicester had taken the lead at the Emirates Stadium on Monday night, Iwobi suddenly appearing in pockets of space to stretch the visitors’ backline. Quickly the pressure told as Mesut Ozil ran onto a Hector Bellerin cross – a cross that was actually meant for Iwobi galloping in behind the Gunners’ on-the-night skipper – and netted the cutest of equalisers.
It was telling too of Iwobi’s productivity that in getting Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang onto the pitch, who provided the cutting edge with two substitute goals in an eventual 3-1 win for the north Londoners, Henrikh Mkhitaryan found himself sacrificed first. Whereas the 22-year-old had really taken the game to the Foxes after their early opener, the Armenian international – despite all his superior experience and pedigree on paper – was a far more passive presence coming in from the right-hand side.
Iwobi then found himself on the right-hand side but managed to make an impact there too, and that will be crucial to his participation in this developing Arsenal team. Whether Aubameyang operates as part of the starting XI or Arsenal’s super-sub, the left wing will be his predominant position so it’s important Iwobi shows he can contribute from other places than his most preferred and natural role.
The willingness and eagerness Iwobi showed in switching wings, when other players might sulk or simply succumb to doubts over their suitability, epitomised the improved hunger Emery seems to have brought out of him.
Structurally too, Iwobi brings a lot of balance to Arsenal’s attack. He likes to come inward as well, but doesn’t look lost out wide in the same way Ramsey, Ozil and Mkhitaryan often do, and he brings a dose of increased discipline, something he portrayed against Leicester with the most tackles of any Arsenal player.
That combination is making him a far better fit for Emery’s system and pushing him ahead of a veteran attacking midfielder in Mkhitaryan, who Transfermarkt value at £31.5million.