If ever one needs an example of how quickly fortunes can change in football, one need look no further than Alex Iwobi who with a couple of impressive substitute appearances in the league and a decent game against Brentford last midweek, has suddenly found himself thrust into the fan spotlight as clamour for his inclusion from the start intensifies.
He’s a guy who burst on to the scene and looked like he had a potential learning curve that could have him as one of our superstars within five years, to a guy who was much maligned due to his lack of end product and running down blind alleys, to a guy who now many of us are desperate to displace Aaron Ramsey to give us more width and balance after the weekend’s win against Watford.
It’s true that your stock is never higher as an Arsenal player than when you’re not playing; be that through injury or just being out of the team.
I watched the game with Andrew on Saturday and remarked how frustrating Iwobi was in that League Cup victory over Chelski last season and the difference now. In that game he lost the ball, couldn’t string passes together, didn’t seem confident in the position he was playing on the pitch and was generally poor. Fast forward nine months and we have a guy who looks like he’s had a confidence injection and is driving at defenders, getting himself an assist for the first goal on Saturday and making a visible improvement on the team when he came on.
Perhaps his inclusion was just a catalyst to see Özil vastly improve and therefore the whole team improve, but to my untrained eyes Iwobi made a very visible impact and if Unai Emery is a man who doesn’t care about big names and big egos, he’ll have some serious thinking to do as to whether Iwobi is rested against Qarabag on Thursday so he can play against Fulham on Sunday.
Iwobi was good on Saturday and he deserves to be knocking on that door, but the question about who he replaces is not as clear-cut as I think many would believe. Yes Ramsey was poor at the weekend and yes his contract situation surely dictates that he should be slowly edged out over time, but Ramsey is a quality player and one bad game does not mean we have our master solution that can be applied to all matches this season.
The fact of the matter is that Ramsey’s energy, his goal threat and his ability to cover ground should preclude that he continues to feature heavily in this Arsenal team right now. It’s tempting to believe that an Iwobi for Ramsey swap solves all issues, but let’s not forget that ‘Wobes’ still has plenty of frustrating moments about him.
Even in the Vorskla game in which I think he played well, he still made some maddening decisions at times, so to think his inclusion will instantly balance this team out is folly.
But after a couple of very good cameos in the league his inclusion should certainly be a very strong consideration for Unai Emery as the games come thick and fast. It’s clear that with the current ‘superstar quartet’ of Auba, Laca, Özil and Ramsey, there just isn’t the space to accommodate all four in the team. We’re too central with all of those players looking to drift in field and we find some of them on top of each other at periods during every game right now.
We’ve been getting away with it so far but that won’t last forever and sooner or later we’re going to get a bloody nose. So my hope is that Emery realises this issue and is working on a solution. Whether that is as simple as Iwobi for Ramsey I’m not so sure but based on form at the moment it doesn’t seem as inconceivable as it once might have done.
The manager has a few days to ponder now before his team make the ‘MEGA SCHLEP’ to Baku on Thursday in which I’m hoping a skeleton team is being taken. We have Fulham at midday on Sunday and so need to have most of the first teamers fresh for that but whether Iwobi is one of those first teamers we shall have to wait with eager anticipation.
Catch you all tomorrow