Alex Iwobi left Arsenal to team up with Marco Silva’s Everton over the summer in one of the biggest transfer deals involving a Nigeria international.
It was the end of a dream and a journey that started for the Super Eagles star some 15 years ago and one that is not without its ups and downs, highs and lows.
Soccernet.ng shines the beam light on the versatile playmaker’s finest moments in an Arsenal shirt.
First goal for Arsenal
A terrible week for the Gunners and an even poorer run of form in the Premier League was set to get worse when boss Arsene Wenger led his charges to face Everton at Goodison Park.
Barcelona had sent Arsenal crashing out of the Champions League with a convincing 3-1 victory at Camp Nou in midweek, only days after Sheffield Wednesday showed the North Londoners the exit door out of the FA Cup.
Another defeat would have left the Gunners 14 points behind unheralded league leaders Leicester City.
And with the third-placed Arsenal looking for a first win in four league games, the pressure was very much on.
But not a hint of it showed on the brows of a young Alex Iwobi, handed his first full league debut by the French manager. The teenager was lively, confident on the ball and strong off it.
The inevitable moment arrived on 42 minutes. Iwobi showed drive, pace and close control to get behind the Everton defenders and tuck one past Joel Robles to double Arsenal’s lead – after a Welbeck opener – and mark his maiden Premier League start with a first goal for the club.
Alex Iwobi is on the verge of joining Everton, the team he scored his first Arsenal goal against as a teenager. pic.twitter.com/TPJAzjeHoy
— Throwback Arsenal (@ThrowbackAFC) August 8, 2019
First game in the Champions League vs Barcelona
Leading 2-1 from the first leg, holders Barcelona eased into the quarter-finals of the Champions League with a 3-1 second-leg victory over Arsenal at the Nou Camp. Goals from Neymar, Luis Suarez, and Messi confirmed the Catalan’s superiority over the English side.
— Futbol Vidz (@Futbol_Vidz) March 16, 2016
The Gunners never really stood a chance in that second leg.
Arsene Wenger knew it too and took the match-up at one of Europe’s most intimidating grounds as an opportunity to test the true mettle of his little-known Nigerian import. And Iwobi took it in his stride.
Mohamed Elneny lashed in a goal for Arsenal in the second half and Danny Welbeck hit the woodwork but the Gunners brightest highlight on a sorry night was of a teenager dancing past established opposing defenders, staying calm in possession and showing off his on-field intelligence.
Fans knew from that moment that they had found a real treasure in this “Naijaboy”.
Signing a professional contract with Arsenal
For so long since joining the club as a nine-year-old kid, no one at Arsenal thought Iwobi was any special than the other kids. He was just another lad privileged to be training with the club’s academy.
Arsenal had more celebrated and talented youngsters – Jack Wilshere, Chuba Akpom, Frimpong, etc – they were expecting to groom into future first-teamers. Not Iwobi.
Arsenal even thought very seriously about releasing Iwobi at 14 and again at 16. It was only at 18 that Arsenal, and Wenger, realised just how good Iwobi was, and how important he could be to them.
“When you first look at him there is nothing special there,” Arsène Wenger admitted about Alex Iwobi,. “He is not the kind of player who impresses you at first.”
— Alexander Iwobi (@alexiwobi) October 6, 2015
By the time the club paid a bit more attention to the lad, everyone realised that he was actually the best young player the Arsenal academy had produced since Jack Wilshere. Quickly, they cooked up a fine contract for him and guarded him closely ever since.
First Champions League goal
While still with Arsenal’s junior team, Iwobi shone like a million stars as Arsenal beat Bayern Munich in the youth version of Europe’s elite competition.
Alex scored twice in that game – one an absolute peach.
Only a few hundred enthusiasts watched that encounter at Meadow Park in leafy Borehamwood but Arsene Wenger – trust that genius – took notice.
Barely a week later, the legendary French boss handed Iwobi his first-team debut. The lad never looked back afterwards. The milestones any young player aspires to pass were ticked off in rapid succession. League Cup appearance. Check. FA Cup. Check. Premier League. Check. First start. Check. First goal. Check. First Champions League start – which happened at no other place but the Camp Nou – Gargantuan check.
His first Champions League goal followed soon. Set up by Arsenal’s master provider Mesuit Ozil with an agile reverse pass, Iwobi calmly slotted home as Arsenal romped to a 4-0 win in Basel.
— Taylor Mitchell (@BestOfArsanal) December 8, 2016
“When I sit down and actually think about what I have done, to score in the under-19s a year ago and then to score my first Champions League goal for the senior team is mad,” Iwobi, then just 20, reflected.
First Trophy Triumph
Iwobi’s time at Arsenal was not trophy-less as he won the first trophy of his professional football career when Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-1 to win the 2017 FA Cup title.
Iwobi might not have played in the final but he contributed immensely in Arsenal’s FA Cup run, playing three games on their way to the final.
In the final, Alexis Sanchez scored a fourth minute opener before Aaron Ramsey restored Arsenal’s lead three minutes after Chelsea equalized in the second half.
After years of many ups and downs, the 21-year-old finally lived the dream of lifting a Cup for his dearly beloved Arsenal.
“Feels Great To End The Season On A High Our Fans Were Unbelievable Today Back To North London With The FA Cup,” he wrote on Twitter after Arsenal’s huge win against their London rivals.
— Alexander Iwobi (@alexiwobi) May 27, 2017
With a winners medal, Iwobi was elevated into the class of Nigeria heroes such as Celestine Babayaro, Kanu Nwankwo, Daniel Amokachi, John Utaka and John Mikel Obi, the only Nigerians to have won the FA Cup trophy.