Alex Iwobi Is An Unfair Target For Arsenal’s Frustrated Fanbase
There are lots of things to complain about at Arsenal at the moment—however, Alex Iwobi is not necessarily one. The young Nigerian has found himself castigated by sections of the Arsenal support after a series of below-par performances, but such harsh criticism is unwarranted. The inexperienced midfielder looks more like a victim of Arsenal’s malaise than a cause.
It’s certainly true that Iwobi’s experienced an up-and-down campaign. There have been some great moments—notably his outstanding performance in a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace at the turn of the year which Arsene Wenger dubbed “exceptional”. However, there have also been plenty of games where Iwobi has struggled to impose himself.
That’s absolutely to be expected. After all, he is still just 20 years old—this is his first full season with the first-team. There will inevitably be highs and lows as he learns his trade.
The frustration for certain fans seems to be that he’s repeatedly picked, seemingly irrespective of his form. Apart from a short spell last year when he lost his place to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi has been one of the first names on Wenger’s team-sheet.
Wenger has come to regard him as essential for the balance of the team. Just as he can’t envisage his defensive midfield without Francis Coquelin, he finds it hard to construct an attack without Iwobi’s elegant presence. The Arsenal boss tends to prefer lining up with one winger who is prepared to push on and run beyond the defence, while the other drifts infield as an auxiliary creator—a function Samir Nasri once described as a ‘non-axial playmaker’. Iwobi is ideal in the latter of those roles, with his slick passing greasing the wheels of Arsenal’s attacking play.
However, it’s probably too early for Wenger to rely on Iwobi so heavily. This, after all, is an academy kid who is being asked to play with a regularity that few could have anticipated. There are still flaws in his game. Consistency is one issue, but the most striking problem is a lack of defensive awareness. It’s utterly clear he’s a player steeped in Wenger’s football philosophy: he’s brilliant with the ball, but doesn’t seem to know what to do without it.
Those traits have led, understandably, to some underwhelming performances. However, that’s no justification for some of the vitriol that seems to be launched in the direction of the youngster. Recent scans of social media have shown that the man once known affectionately as ‘Big 17’ is fast becoming a lightning rod for criticism.
After all, it’s not Iwobi’s fault that he keeps being selected. It’s Wenger who must take the flak for that decision, rather than the player himself. Iwobi’s attitude can’t be faulted: any time staff at the club speak about him, they emphasise his humility. This is not a young player who’s become a ‘big time Charlie’ off the back of a few first team appearances—he seems utterly dedicated to his life as a footballer. It’s inevitable that his form will undergo fluctuations, but he deserves patience rather than censure.
The Arsenal supporters should try to ensure their rage does not spill over on to undue targets. Arsenal fans are justifiably frustrated about the state of their team, but any anger at Iwobi is surely misplaced.