Nigerians in the FA Cup semis: What did we learn?

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Four became two on Wembley's hallowed turf over a weekend of mixed fortunes for Nigeria internationals involved in the FA Cup


COMMENT    By Solace Chukwu     Follow on Twitter
 

There were two contrasting FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley this weekend, but the general theme was a triumph for chaos. Tottenham Hotspur seemed to have their semi-final tie against Chelsea well in hand, but failed to find real incision before the introduction of Eden Hazard accelerated a descent into disorder.

Manchester City beat furiously against the Arsenal rearguard, but for all their control and chances, were undone in extra-time.

Control then, while admirable and to be sought after, guaranteed nothing for either one of the four sides. That said, the Nigerians on display would not mind being in control of their destinies at this point: in particular Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi, whose teams contested the second semi-final.

Victor Moses has reason to be pleased with his lot, and is on course for a double, but what does the weekend tell us about the futures of the Nigerian representatives in the FA Cup semi-final?

Iheanacho Manchester City

Kelechi Iheanacho needs to leave Manchester City

With the game in extra-time and striker Sergio Aguero running on fumes on Sunday, it was imperative that Pep Guardiola made a sub. On the bench was Iheanacho, de facto back-up striker by virtue of Gabriel Jesus’ injury, and a proven goal scorer—he is that much for all that doubts persist about his general play.

And yet it was Fabian Delph who made his way onto the pitch in place of the goalscorer, with Kevin De Bruyne moving to play upfront.

As a vote of no confidence in the abilities of the Nigeria international, it could not have been clearer or more damning. Only after Alexis Sanchez pounced in the box to fire Arsenal into the lead did Iheanacho belatedly make his way on. By then, the damage was already done.

Two things are clear, and should inform a decision on the part of the 20-year-old. First off, it is clear Guardiola will be at City for the long haul. Secondly, it is clear he does not rate the two-time Caf Young Player of the Year.

The writing is on the wall, Kelechi.

Alex Iwobi Arsene Wenger Arsenal

Okocha is right; Iwobi can force his way in at Arsenal

A place in the FA Cup final may serve to smooth over some of the tensions that rack Arsenal presently, but there is no mistaking the fact the Gunners are not in a good place. A switch to a 3-4-2-1 system has brought two wins from two and steadied the ship somewhat though.

However, when Mesut Ozil’s free kick went free in the box and Sanchez stabbed home, it was a stark reminder of the contract impasse around the team’s two best players. Simply put, neither is penned in beyond the summer of 2018, and considering the fact both are reportedly requesting top billing – essentially shattering the club’s wage structure – it is unlikely both can or will be kept.

 

This is why Iwobi can rest assured he remains in Arsene Wenger’s plans. The youngster lost his place in the squad following a string of inconsistent displays, but is still very much a work in progress.

If Wenger persists with this system going forward, as it brings out the best in his two star players, there will be ample room for Iwobi to make himself relevant. As one of the inside forwards, he would not be required to carry the entire creative burden, and would also be spared stringent defensive responsibility, an area of his game that has been heavily criticized.

Victor Moses

Stellar Victor Moses now a complete wing-back

His mugging of Son Heung-min late in the first half was a wily bit of play to win Chelsea a penalty, but it was in his own half that Moses was most impressive.

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The Blues were under the cosh for long periods against Tottenham, but as Mauricio Pochettino’s side probed and prodded, they got no change out of the right side of Chelsea’s defence.

For a converted winger, one of the more remarkable aspects of Moses’s game is that he rarely ever gets caught out of position. His understanding with Cesar Azpilicueta is almost telepathic; when the Spaniard was tempted out of the defensive line to pick up a runner, there was Moses filling in, sometimes even in the very centre of his own penalty area.

From attacking those zones to defending them intelligently, the 26-year-old has come full circle.                                                                                                                                    

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