Arsenal

Alex Iwobi Gives Arsenal Cause for Optimism After Win at Everton

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 19: Alex Iwobi of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Arsenal at Goodison Park on March 19, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images)
James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images
James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2016

Arsenal fans experienced a strangely familiar sensation during the 2-0 win at Everton. They were watching a cohesive team display, with fluent attacking complemented by aggressive defending. For the first time in months, the supporters had the satisfaction of watching a balanced and convincing performance. The hope now is that it could provide a platform to help produce a strong finish to the season.

There had been some signs of recovery in the midweek defeat to Barcelona. For that game, Wenger had given Nigerian teenager Alex Iwobi his first UEFA Champions League start. He followed up with his full Premier League debut at Goodison Park, and Iwobi did not disappoint.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 19: Alex Iwobi of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Arsenal at Goodison Park on March 19, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images)
James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Obviously his most memorable contribution was his goal, racing on to Hector Bellerin’s long ball to fire underneath Joel Robles. The confidence with which he took that goal spoke volumes about his maturity and readiness for the senior stage.

However, there was more to his performance than that. Iwobi was a menace all day long, interchanging brilliantly with Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck and bringing flexibility and unpredictability to the Arsenal attack.

Speaking to Arsenal.com after the game, Wenger was full of praise for his young star:

He is an intelligent boy who is passionate about the game and wants to learn. He is very humble as well. He is 19 years old. He has been at the club since the age of eight. I was looking at him in training during the season and in pre-season and I liked what he did. After that, he improved very quickly with the first team. Month after month, he developed very well and that is why I integrated him and played him.

His presence on the field seems to help liberate those around him. His versatility granted Alexis more opportunities to roam, and that helped to create Arsenal’s first goal—a stunning one-two between the Chilean and Ozil led to Welbeck rounding Robles and tucking home. It was the sort of breathtaking goal based on movement and quick passing that was once Arsenal’s trademark.

It was telling that Theo Walcott, so poor in recent months, did not even get off the substitutes' bench. For the time being at least, Iwobi has leapfrogged the England international in the pecking order.

Arsenal's Nigerian striker Alex Iwobi (3rd R) celebrates with teammates after scoring their second goal during the English Premier League football match between Everton and Arsenal at Goodison Park in Liverpool, north west England on March 19, 2016. / AFP
OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

This win was down to more than just the front four. At centre-half, Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel Paulista were doggedly determined to protect an injured David Opsina. In front of them, Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin policed the midfield very effectively. The early evidence would suggest that these two players have the makings of a good partnership. Elneny, like Iwobi, has helped provide the side with the balance and stability it badly needed.

Arsenal’s elation was subsequently punctured by Leicester’s latest victory over Crystal Palace. The win takes the Foxes 11 points clear of the Gunners and means the title still feels like a distant dream.

Truth be told, Arsenal can’t afford to think of the title at present. They just need to focus on putting some form back together to preserve their Champions League status. At this stage, anything else would be a bonus—much like Iwobi’s surprise emergence.

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout 2015/16. Follow him on Twitter here.

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