Arsenal’s Nigerian striker Alex Iwobi celebrates his team’s second goal after his shot was defelected into goal off Swansea City’s English midfielder Jack Cork (unseen) during the English Premier League football match between Swansea City and Arsenal at The Liberty Stadium in Swansea, south Wales on January 14, 2017. Geoff CADDICK / AFP
After a November night that saw him struggle to find his best form and score an unfortunate own goal in the 2-2 draw against Paris Saint-German in the Champions League, Alex Iwobi found himself taken out of the firing line by Arsene Wenger.
Although he started an EFL Cup game and the European match against FC Basel, Iwobi was kept in reserve in the Premier League. He was unused in the 3-1 home win over Bournemouth, came on in the 88th minute of the 5-1 win at West Ham and got about 20 minutes in each of the games against Stoke and Everton.
It was smart management from Wenger, who has illustrated his belief in the 20-year-old attacker’s talent and potential more than once.
Selecting him away at Barcelona in the Champions League in March of last year was a way of giving a side that needed it something fresh, but it wasn’t a change merely for the sake of change. Wenger saw the maturity and quality in Iwobi’s game, felt confident he could perform on a stage that grand and wasn’t let down by this belief.
Yet as with most young players, fluctuations in form are normal. There’s almost a carefree nature to the early part of their breakthrough. Expectations are low, there’s no real pressure as people understand the circumstances, and that allows them to play with real freedom.
Over time, though, that changes. Once you show you can perform to a certain level, that’s what people begin to expect. With that comes pressure, perhaps some self-doubt, and more difficulty playing to your potential.
Having given Iwobi some time out of the spotlight to work things out on the training ground and take stock of his situation, Wenger was rewarded with an excellent performance from the attacking midfielder in the 4-0 win over Swansea.
He helped force two own goals — although Iwobi says he’s going to try and claim the first — and was involved in the buildup to the fourth, which was tucked away in the end by Alexis Sanchez.
It was a display of creativity, pace and power from a young man who has serious potential and who, if he stays on the right track, is destined to be one of Gunners’ great homegrown stars. Iwobi joined the club at age nine and has come up through the academy system to become a fixture in the first team.
Only Sanchez, defenders Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal, and Mesut Ozil have started more games for Arsenal this season, and the progress Iwobi is making as a player is hugely exciting.
It might also be to his benefit that he declared for the country of his birth, Nigeria, when it comes to international football. He had represented England at junior levels, but over the last couple of years was completely ignored by the FA, thus making his decision to follow in the footsteps of his legendary uncle Jay-Jay Okocha even easier.
There’s no doubt that if he were an England international playing this well and showing so much verve in his performances, people would be talking about him a lot more. It is a double-edged sword, though, because with that comes increased scrutiny and perhaps greater pressure.
And there is not much certain sections of the football press like more than building a young player up so that they can knock him down again. Look at some of the treatment received by Raheem Sterling, for example, to see how that works.
• Culled from espn.co.uk