On March 19, 2016, Arsenal defeated Everton 2-0 in a Premier League encounter at Goodison Park, but the real story of the day was about a 19-year-old.
The 19-year-old that day was Alex Iwobi, and he announced himself to the world by scoring Arsenal’s second goal.
Iwobi latched onto a ball from Hector Bellerin and used his pace to beat his nearest challenger before firing a low shot past Joel Robles in Everton’s goal.
It was his first start in Premier League that day, but he gave a brilliant display beyond his years. Iwobi backed up his impressive performance on his first league start with another goal on his second start in the 4-0 win over Watford.
Following the clash against the Hornets, Arsenal manager then Arsene Wenger praised Iwobi’s exceptional qualities.
“These people have seen many good players over the years, and they know straight away when a player has something special, so they acknowledge that,” Wenger said about Iwobi.
It was hoped that Iwobi would go on to do big things at Arsenal. However, five years later, the Nigerian international has failed to live up to expectations, and he’s no longer at the club.
Please make no mistake, the 25-year-old had his chances at the Emirates, but it never really worked out for him. Iwobi did quite okay during his time at Arsenal, but there was always the feeling that he could do more.
The Super Eagles star was often criticised for his lack of end product and inconsistency by Arsenal fans. Iwobi played 149 times for the Gunners scoring 27 times and registering 15 assists.
In fairness, Iwobi played on the flanks in most games for Arsenal, and that affected his output. But when he played in his preferred attacking midfield role, he did not impress either.
However, five years after making his debut for the Gunners, Iwobi left the Emirates to sign for the team he scored his first Premier League goal against- Everton.
The move to Goodison Park offered the Nigerian international an opportunity to impress at a club where the pressure is lesser.
But two seasons into his time at Everton, Iwobi has not fared better. In fact, his lack of end product has gotten worse.
In his first campaign, he started well, scoring twice in his first three games. But goals dried up afterwards, and he only managed one assist. Iwobi managed just two goals and one assist in 31 games in his first season, which is really a bad return.
Although he played on both flanks in most games, he played as an attacking midfielder on four occasions in the league but struggled to have an impact.
While Iwobi likes playing as an attacking midfielder, managers do not trust him enough to play in the role as he does not do enough.
At Arsenal, Iwobi did not have the creativity of Mesut Ozil or Santi Carzola, which was why he played on the wings in most games.
And it’s important to state that he played under two different managers (Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery) during his time at the Emirates, but both managers did not find him suitable for the role.
Meanwhile, in his first season at Everton, he also played under two different managers (Marco Silva and Duncan Ferguson), but both coaches prefered to play Gylfi Sigurdsson in that role.
Iwobi came under criticism from Evertonians after his first season at the club. It was even reported that he could leave after the Toffees brought in three new midfielders in James Rodriguez, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan.
However, he ended up staying with the hope his performance would improve. But it was more of the same, scoring just twice and providing three assists in 36 appearances this season. He also created just three big chances, but that was it.
Everton had a new manager in charge this season in Carlo Ancelotti, but Iwobi’s position never changed- although he did play as a right wing-back in some games, which happens to be his best period in the season.
He did get his chance to play in his preferred role after he aimed a subtle dig at Ancelotti, but it was a game to forget as Everton lost at home to Burnley.
In fairness, Iwobi is not at fault for Everton’s woes this season, but the Nigerian star could also have contributed more.
Even on the international scene, where he has played in the role regularly, he has been unconvincing. Ironically, Iwobi is the nephew of Jay-Jay Okocha, who the Super Eagles have struggled to replace since he retired.
Iwobi was seen as the answer to Nigeria’s search for Okocha’s replacement when he made his debut. But six years later, the Everton star has shown he’s not the answer to the Super Eagles creativity conundrum.
At the age of 25, Iwobi is supposed to be approaching his peak, but it hasn’t turned out like that. He burst onto the scene as a talented kid, but he has failed to reach his full potential, and it’s time fans accept that.