The Arsenal youngster has set about establishing himself in the Gunners first team and, having done that, will turn his attentions to Nigeria.
It is Alexander’s world, and we are living in it by his own benefaction. Only 20, he has ascended the throne of a great forebear, and his encroachment beyond the fringes of public consciousness continues apace.
Saturday’s performance, in which he contrived to tie Chelsea, for so long a thorn in Arsenal’s side, in so many inextricable knots, was simply the latest in a barely credible sequence of events that have seen Iwobi go from squad player to indispensable.
It is a rise barely six months in the making.
Then again, to make a first-ever senior club start against Barcelona at Camp Nou in the Champions League and shine through is something quite remarkable. His future should have been clear there and then: there will be little that will faze this young’un. Whatever side of the nature (kin to Jay-Jay Okocha) vs. nurture (bred at the feet of Arsene Wenger, that craggy Aristotle of English football) debate you fall on, Iwobi is something truly special.
It is not so much his ability, but the economy of it, that is truly remarkable, and points to the strand of maturity that runs through his play. With the patience of a spider, he spins his silk with almost dopey glee, spindly and sticky legs all aflutter, a glint in his eye. Wenger captured this perfectly before the game.
“He is not the kind of player who impresses you at first. But when you look a bit deeper he is quick at connecting with other players. Quick analysis,” he told Arsenal.com.
This is Iwobi’s biggest strength, that liquid ability to inhabit the structure of the game around him.
He does not impose, demands nothing, calls no attention to himself. His desire simply is to facilitate, to achieve a oneness with the tempo and flow, to become his surroundings.
In many ways, this makes him the perfect Wenger footballer.
The Frenchman was plucked out of Japan two decades ago to turn Arsenal around, in the very year of Iwobi’s birth.
The Oriental values of natural equilibrium which have defined his best teams have now been transmitted into one player; an almost physical representation, complete with that signature epicanthic fold and almond-shaped ocular features.
His Man of the Match award, in a game where he neither scored nor assisted any of Arsenal’s three goals on the day, speaks volumes of his influence on proceedings. Touch perfect, movement as intuitive as a veteran (“The perception he has of the game and the speed of his decision-making struck me,” said Wenger) and flash, but only when absolutely necessary and because the game-state demands it.
Even his positioning and contribution going toward his own goal, which is the one area where he could be faulted, was so much better against the Blues.
Having burst onto the scene at such an opportune time for club, it remains to be seen whether he can do it for country. There is certainly room for him on the left side of the midfield, where he has been so effective in North London, as Victor Moses underwhelmed so completely against Tanzania in early September.
The Super Eagles were superior on the day, but much of the attacking play was muddled and improvisational, producing a less than synergetic effort. It was no coincidence the only goal of the game came from a set-piece routine.
The introduction of Iwobi also eases the burden of Manchester City counterpart Kelechi Iheanacho, whose drifting into deep positions robbed Nigeria of presence upfront in Uyo.
Indeed it is exciting – the prospect of these two linking up between the opposition’s lines of defence and midfield, with their architectural grasp of space and their mechanical economy of movement and execution.
With Arsenal’s large following in Nigeria, Iwobi is essentially two gifts rolled in one, compliments of Arsene Wenger. Now, firmly established in the Gunners’ first team, his sense of timing is set to once again make him an asset, this time with the national team.
His average Joe, chameleon-like ability to blend in will endear him to a largely middle-class Nigerian population, and makes him pretty much perfect for international football.