He may have been born in Lagos, but Alex Iwobi is very much embedded in the Arsenal way.
That much has certainly been in evidence in the 19-year-old’s appearances for the first-team recently, with the prospect having shot to prominence after featuring against Barcelona in the Champions League before proceeding to score his first Premier League goal in the victory over Everton.
Iwobi is still raw in some aspects of his game, but he has shown a willingness to learn this season and appears at ease on the first-team stage. The most remarkable aspect of his breakthrough, though, is that very few people, if any, envisaged it.
It had been clear that Arsene Wenger holds Iwobi in high regard; he did, after all, call him up for a Capital One Cup tie as far back as 2013, but, with a plethora of players ahead of him, it seemed highly unlikely that Iwobi would get much further in his quest to make the first-team squad.
When he was progressing through the ranks at Arsenal, Iwobi looked like an encouraging talent, but, until last season, never really caught the attention of many as being a standout starlet.
Indeed, he wasn’t offered a professional contract until he turned 18, whilst prior to that he had to be patient for opportunities at both U18 and U21 level.
Last season, though, the youngster took his game to new heights as he scored with regularity for the second-string. If there was one fixture that proved to be a pivotal moment, it was in the U21 game against Stoke City, at Emirates Stadium no less, when he scored a hat-trick.
After that Wenger saw fit to include Iwobi in his pre-season plans and the prospect responded by scoring against Lyon in the Emirates Cup. Rather than being sent out on loan, Iwobi was retained for first-team cover and was particularly impressive in the club’s FA Cup campaign, where he caught the eye in midfield.
Now Iwobi’s career is hitting new heights. He was named man of the match for his display at Goodison Park, he is set to make his competitive debut for Nigeria and there is talk of a new, high paying contract.
It is important to remember, though, that Iwobi hasn’t quite made it yet. Getting a foothold into the first-team scene is one thing, but staying there is altogether more difficult and he may well have to go on loan at some point in an attempt to smooth out those aforementioned rough edges.
For now, though, Iwobi will be delighted with how his campaign has panned out, with his adaptability and hard-working nature having endeared him to Wenger. To the outside viewer this may seem like a case of a talented prospect making the inevitable breakthrough, but those who have monitored Iwobi’s development will be aware that it has taken much dedication for him to reach this point, against expectations.
Now his next task will be to cope with the additional pressure that will inevitably be placed upon him.