The news that Santi Cazorla is expected to be out for at least three months through injury is extremely frustrating, particularly as it comes at a time when Arsenal are deprived of the services of several other key players.
Cazorla’s absence could lead to Aaron Ramsey receiving a sustained opportunity to impress in his preferred deep-lying central midfield position, and Jack Wilshere is scheduled to return at some point this month, but beyond that there aren’t too many options for Arsene Wenger to consider in that position.
It is perhaps fortunate, then, that Arsenal have been conducting an experiment with Alex Iwobi at youth level, with the 19-year-old, who usually plays on the wing or up front, having featured in the “Cazorla” position for the club’s development sides over the past couple of weeks.
It isn’t exactly a snug fit, as deploying Iwobi in that position inevitably means that he has less opportunities during a game to make the most of his key attributes of pace and finishing.
There have been some encouraging signs of late, however, with the Nigeria international impressing in that position during the victory over Brighton & Hove Albion at U21 level this week.
Iwobi frequently drove forwards at the AMEX Stadium and linked play to impressive effect, with the coaching staff having made the decision to deploy him in central-midfield in an attempt to increase his tactical awareness and develop his all-round game.
At a time when Arsenal’s first-team squad is rather small, particularly when injuries are taken into account, Iwobi currently finds himself rather close to the senior set-up, as evidenced by the fact that he has featured in the Premier League, the Champions League and the Capital One Cup this season.
The 19-year-old appears to have been overtaken by Jeff Reine-Adelaide in the pecking order over the past couple of weeks, but it would only take one or two further injuries for Iwobi to be involved on the bench for the first-team again.
Indeed, he will almost certainly be heavily active in training sessions with the senior squad over the hectic Christmas period, and, with Cazorla ruled out, it is likely that Iwobi will be deployed as a central-midfielder in those sessions.
The Hale End product will only be used in that position for the first-team in an emergency, or perhaps if Arsenal face a lower league team in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup.
He will most probably continue to be deployed there in the youth teams, however, in the event that he is needed to provide cover for the senior side whilst Cazorla is out.
With so few other options at his disposal, Arsene Wenger may just be grateful that Iwobi, rather unexpectedly, has emerged as a potential back up choice in midfield.