Chuba Akpom and Alex Iwobi were re-united on the pitch yesterday, with both players achieving notable feats in their young careers as Arsenal swatted aside a Singapore Select XI in their opening pre-season fixture.
Akpom and Iwobi, two Hale End products, rose through the ranks together at Arsenal but their respective paths have deviated a little in recent years, with Akpom having been sent out on loan on several occasions and Iwobi instead spending much of his time developing in the U21s.
Yesterday, though, they were back in the same team, with both players involved from the offset in the Premier League Asia Trophy. Iwobi, operating on the left flank, made his first-team debut, whilst Akpom, as has been well documented, hit an impressive hat-trick.
Both players have developed tremendously well of late. For a time it seemed that Akpom was well ahead of his close friend, with the striker having already been officially promoted to the Arsenal first-team squad in addition to spending time out on loan.
Iwobi, though, enjoyed a superb end to the 2014/15 season at U21 level, helped, incidentally, by the fact that he was deployed more often as a central-striker as he filled the void that had been vacated by Akpom’s temporary departure to Nottingham Forest.
The new campaign is set to bring fresh challenges for both players. Iwobi seems set for a loan spell at some stage as he seeks to prove that he is capable of competing in senior football. For Akpom, the situation is a little less clear, although manager Arsene Wenger suggested yesterday that his intention, as things stand at least, it to keep the forward at Arsenal for the new campaign rather than send him out on loan again.
Quite how much game time Akpom would receive in such a scenario is open to debate. Yaya Sanogo and Joel Campbell may well leave on loan and permanently respectively, but even then Akpom would still be competing with Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck and, potentially, Theo Walcott, for a striking berth. Would the 19-year-old, even given his immense promise, which was demonstrated again yesterday, be able to feature prominently in such circumstances?
It is set to be a big season for Akpom on the international stage, too, with the youngster poised to move up to the England U21 squad having previously represented the Three Lions at various other age groups. This is another instance in which his and Iwobi’s career paths have differed slightly, with the latter having seemingly opted to represent Nigeria instead, which is perhaps an unsurprising choice given that he is the nephew of Jay-Jay Okocha.
Despite the differences in Akpom and Iwobi’s careers so far, they both remain Arsenal players and, however difficult the circumstances may be, they are both still hopeful of one day making the grade at the club.