Although he dropped out of the first team towards the end of our recent campaign, taken overall, 2016/17 was a successful breakthrough season for Alex Iwobi.
Alexander Chuka Iwobi, still only 21 years old, made 38 appearances in all competitions last season, 25 of them coming with him in the starting 11.
Overall, he made a good impression, especially on Alexis Sanchez, who recently rated Alex as the best young player at Arsenal.
Iwobi only scored four goals last season which has to be an aspect of his game that he needs to work on as an attacking player–not that he’s alone there!
Arsene Wenger will be acutely aware of Alex’s development, of how he needs to push on over the next 12 months, and how Arsenal’s transfer business in the summer must be executed so that it doesn’t hamper that development. It’s a fine balancing act for Arsene as Iwobi could become a really important player for us next season. A young player can grow enormously in just a year and Wenger will not want to stunt that growth by bringing in players who could block off and frustrate a football education, that, in Iwobi’s case, is at a crucial stage.
That priority, however, has to balanced against the here and now. Arsene knows only too well the clamour he faces for new signings this summer in what is possibly his most important transfer window since 1997. At the same time, Wenger will always try to develop home made talent.
Of course, Iwobi’s situation isn’t helped by the unnecessary, selfish and rather crass comments coming from within the Nigerian Football Association, where certain officials in that organisation have urged Alex to leave Arsenal to get more game time. Fortunately, Alex is surrounded by more sensible people at Arsenal who are advising and guiding him towards a long term and fruitful career rather than allowing him to be swayed by the short term needs of a national team coach.
Alex has been the breakthrough story of 2016/17. Who is going to be the next player to take that giant stride for Arsenal in 2017/18?
With Wenger looking to move on as many as eight players this summer and not wanting to bring in more than three or perhaps four new signings, there must be opportunities for two or three youngsters to establish themselves in the senior squad this coming campaign.
Jeff Reine-Adelaide, still just 19 years old, spent most of last season–in fact the last two years–in and around the senior squad, gradually growing and maturing. He had only six appearances with five starts last season but this could be his time. Arsenal playing in the Europa League should, in the early games at least, offer “The Jeff” the opportunities to showcase his talents and he’ll likely get more game time in other competitions even if it’s only from the bench. Reine-Adelaide has all the attributes to be a top player. All he needs are minutes on the pitch, and, with the upcoming double of Europa League and League Cup matches to look forward to, he should enjoy a lot of exposure.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles, also 19 years old, spent 2015/16 on loan at Ipswich Town, where he made a good impression, despite his mother. Last season he was retained at Arsenal, making seven appearances and slowly being integrated into the senior group. Maitland-Niles has now been told by Wenger that he has been promoted to the first team squad permanently. That–and his recent success as part of England’s U20 World Cup winning squad–should set AMN up for a breakthrough season. Ainsley could well find himself sharing a central midfield spot in both the Europa League and League Cup competions alongside more senior figures like Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny, especially as it appears that Santi Cazorla may not being available until late October or early November. Maitland-Niles is a flexible player who has played in various midfield positions as well as at right back. If Arsene continues the three-at-the-back experiment which served so well at the tail end of last season, it could be just the catalyst for Maitland-Niles to establish himself.
With Krytian Bielik being lined up for another season on loan, the two above are my strongest tips to follow in the footsteps of Alex Iwobi. I suspect that Chuba Akpom, Dan Crowley and Gedion Zelalem will be off on loan again, whilst the future of Chris Willock still remains uncertain.
But that’s just my opinion. Maybe there are those among you who avidly follow the academy and have some tips of their own. If so, let’s have them.
OK chaps, that’s ya lot.