Alex Iwobi is a rare commodity in the Premier League. He’s a player who has graduated from Arsenal’s Hale End academy system and gone on to make more than 15 appearances for the first team. The main objective of an academy is to develop youngsters who can gradually become regular mainstays of the senior squad. Youth graduates, much like university graduates, remain hopeful of getting into that coveted dream job or position.
Iwobi’s rise to fruition has been a fast one, having broken onto the scene last season and getting his first Champions League start in a 3-1 defeat to Barcelona at the Nou Camp, it’s fair to say that the Nigerian international has adapted to the pressures of top flight football. The 19-year-old is also the nephew of legendary attacking midfielder Jay-Jay Okocha.
“He is always telling me that he knows a lot has happened and that I have come far, but he says to stay humble and that I will go far,” Iwobi said in an interview with Arsenal’s official website last season.
Humility is one facet of Iwobi’s game which remains hard to come by in today’s professional footballers. He comes from a tight-knit family background and is never pictured leaving nightclubs or doing anything untoward, with many players his age more used to featuring on the front pages of newspapers instead of the back. That’s why Arsene Wenger has put such faith in the youngster over the past season and a half.
“What I like is his love for the game, his passion for the game and his hard work”, lauded the Frenchman following the 4-1 win over Hull last weekend.
Wenger has had plenty of talented academy graduates over the years. The main reason why only a select few have become first-team regulars is not necessarily down to talent and more a case of attitude. Iwobi is humble and emits confidence – not arrogance – when he’s on and off the pitch. He has the most assists for Arsenal in 2016, more than Mesut Ozil, and his impressive displays in the opening few Premier League games this season show that he is ready for another explosive campaign.
Six Arsenal academy products have gone on to make over 10 appearances for the club in the top flight, while nine altogether have played for the first team. Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ appearance in an unfamiliar position at right-back against Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night continued Wenger’s trend of fielding young talents in the League Cup matches.