On October 27 2015, Arsenal suffered a 3-0 loss to Sheffield Wednesday in the Round of 16 of the League Cup, but for fans in Nigeria and Algeria, it will be remembered as the day two of Africa’s brightest prospect in Alex Iwobi and Ismael Bennacer made their debuts for the Gunners.
However, since they both made their debuts on that fateful night, their careers have taken a different route. Bennacer left the Emirates in 2017 on loan before signing for Italian Serie A side Empoli permanently.
Alex Iwobi meanwhile is still at Arsenal and recently signed a long term deal with the club last year. However, aside from a few here and there special moments, Iwobi’s has not really unlocked his potential at the emirates. In contrast, Bennacer has made progress even if it may not be massive since he left the Gunners in 2017.
Two years younger than Iwobi, Bennacer has enjoyed a run of games with Empoli which aided his development.
In 2017/2018 season, the dynamic and versatile left-footed midfielder played 39 league matches for the Gli Azzurri registering four assists and scoring two goals. He continued in the same vein as Empoli gained promotion to the Italian topflight the following season.
The former Tours midfielder made 37 appearances last season registering five assists. He capped up a wonderful season, leading Algeria to their first nation cups in 29 years, winning the player of the tournament in the process.
While Bennacer has enjoyed a new lease of life since he left Arsenal in 2017, the same cannot really be said about Alex Iwobi who has failed to live up to expectations at the Emirates.
And that begs the question if Jay-Jay Okocha’s nephew needs to follow Bennacer’s suit by leaving Arsenal in order to realise his potential.
Although it may be harsh to say Iwobi has not really been good for the gunners, his performances suggest that which may be due to his role in the team.
Since he made his Premier League debut in 2015, Iwobi has played 100 premier league games which is not bad for a 23-year-old. However, the downside to these stats is that in these games, he has managed just 16 assists and 11 goals.
Many believe the 23-year-old will perform effectively has an attacking midfielder, but he has been deployed out wide on the wing which has limited his creativity.
While he may be versatile, he recently confirmed he enjoys playing as an attacking midfielder. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion… “But I do play in a different position for Nigeria, as an attacking midfielder. I am more comfortable playing there.”
Iwobi: “Everyone is entitled to their opinion… But I do play in a different position for Nigeria, as an attacking midfielder. I am more comfortable playing there.
At AFCON he played 7 games (559min) scored one goal. No assist. Chances created too little. He should worry.
— Faraway (@femifarawe) July 22, 2019
However, the truth is if Iwobi is to follow his uncle’s footsteps by becoming one of Africa’s greatest number 10, he may need to quit the gunners.
The Nigerian international may find it difficult to get his wish of playing behind the striker because Emery does not trust him enough to take that responsibility. With Mesut Ozil still at the club also, it makes it difficult for to stake a claim for that position.
The Nigerian international could also find his wing position come under threat if Arsenal signs Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace. If the Ivorien international make the move, Iwobi’s game’s time will take a huge dent.
The 23-year-old reportedly will be looking for a move away from the club if Zaha joins the gunners, although he later clarified that statement.
But the truth is Iwobi may need to take the hard decision of leaving the emirates and move to a club where he will earn the trust of the manager who will play him in his preferred role.
The Super Eagles star can look to his former teammate Bennacer who took the hard decision of leaving the North London club in 2017 and has now joined Italian giants AC Milan.
Bennacer caught the eye of the Rossoneri because he took the decision of moving to a club where he will get more game time in his favoured position. The decision earned him a golden ball at AFCON and a move to one of the most iconic clubs in the world.
Iwobi may also need to follow in this path if he is to fully unlock the potential that has not been fully utilized at the Emirates.