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Why Alex Iwobi can be Arsenal's future

There is a lot of controversy surrounding Arsenal – or more specifically, star playmaker Mesut Ozil and head coach Unai Emery . There ...



There is a lot of controversy surrounding Arsenal – or more specifically, star playmaker Mesut Ozil and head coach Unai Emery.
There is a considerable section of Gunners fans who believe that Ozil, who has made just one start since Boxing Day despite being arguably the club's most technically gifted player, has been mistreated by Emery.
That is understandable, because Ozil is a World Cup champion from 2014 and has won numerous glittering trophies and individual awards in his career.
Indeed, a pragmatist like Jose Mourinho had no qualms picking him regularly for Real Madrid and, should the 30-year-old leave North London, there are no guarantees that the club will be able to attract a player of his calibre in future, especially if they do not qualify for the Champions League this term.
In that sense, it would take a certain amount of bravery for the club to take Emery's side in the dispute.

Alex Iwobi, one of the players who has been getting more game time in the German's absence, has received an element of criticism from supporters, with a section perhaps crossing a line.
Those who question Iwobi in a fair and constructive manner are well within their rights to do so.
The 22-year-old does not yet possess the capacity for inch-perfect through balls and, in games like last month's 1-0 defeat at West Ham among others, it may seem frustrating that the one player who can unlock deep defensive blocks is barely being used.
In the long-term, however, Emery's way of handling Ozil and his policy of giving opportunities to developing players like Iwobi, 13/5 with Betway to score against Southampton, will pay off.
Firstly, when deployed in a central, attacking midfield position, Iwobi completes 1.7 key passes per 90 minutes of Premier League action, compared to just 2.1 for his counter-part – not that big a disparity.
The Nigerian is sometimes criticized for his decision making, with justification, but that shows he has an eye for a simple, one-touch through ball that releases a teammate, even if they are not yet quite as precise as those from Ozil.
The fact Iwobi can run with the ball accurately is almost to his detriment, because he then gets perceived as a wide man, when in fact he never played there during his youth and does not have the explosion of pace that we saw from Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane or Sadio Mane at a similar age.
When Iwobi is out wide, especially in open spaces, he struggles without the options in possession to initiate quick combination play, which is his main strength: he has a selflessness, an ability to retain possession in tight areas and shift the ball quickly which a lot of players do not have, even at the top level.
When he is deployed centrally, those key qualities come to the fore due to the increase in the number of passing options.
Ozil

Plus, what the academy graduate has in his favour over Ozil, is the energy and willingness to press the opposition.
Without throwing himself into challenges, he applies enough pressure on the ball to force an opposing player to re-think their options, thus helping his side force the other team back.
At this stage of Emery's Arsenal tenure, the number one priority is to change the culture of the club.
The top two teams in England, Liverpool and Manchester City, needed a transitional period at the beginning of the managerial reigns of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola respectively.
Both are now considered world-class bosses, but they took over from managers who did not put enough thought into how their team set up without the ball, meaning the teams did not play with the required energy.
Changing a mentality at a club is a massive step towards turning it into one that can compete with English football's elite and that is what Emery is beginning to do.
If players know they need to train at a high-intensity to earn a place in Emery's first eleven, then follow his orders out of possession during the game to keep it, that raises the sense of competition.
Iwobi is not yet a world-class player and certainly needs to develop certain aspects of his decision-making.
Given time, however, he can become central – literally and metaphorically - to the cultural shift in N5.



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