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Alex Iwobi: Arsenal must reject Everton interest

4:36 PM WAT 07/08/2019
Alex Iwobi - Arsenal
The Toffees are in for the Nigeria international, but it would be a mistake for the Gunners to allow him leave this summer

As far as transfer window intrigues go, Nigeria midfielder Alex Iwobi is an unlikely candidate.

The 23-year-old is Arsenal through and through, having come through the youth set-up at North London, and is by all accounts well regarded by the coaching staff at the club. Last season, he made over 50 appearances in all competitions for the Gunners, and scored in the final of the Europa League.

The latest reports of a bid for him from Merseyside are, in context, somewhat out of the blue. The approach has been rebuffed, but it is believed that Arsenal would be willing to accept an improved offer in the region of £40 million.

While Everton have demonstrably recruited well this summer, a move to bring in a prime player from a top-six side in the league would represent a proper statement of intent for Marco Silva’s men.

Even on a more practical level, it makes sense.

Perhaps Everton’s biggest foible last term was an inability to maintain pressure high up the pitch, and as such their matches took on something of a see-saw effect. Some of that was eventually remedied by fielding a targetman in Dominic Calvert-Lewin who could hold the ball up and occupy opposing centre-backs, and Everton would finish the season with just two losses in their final 11 matches.

The expectation is for new signing Moise Kean to lead the line, and the former Juventus man is an altogether different profile of centre-forward. If Everton want to get the ball to stick upfront, they will have to get their Velcro some other way.

That eloquently explains the allure of Iwobi for the Toffees.

While the conversation around the Nigeria international is polarized, as is the manner of Arsenal’s ample fanbase, his merits are clear enough to the unblinkered eye: able to receive possession in tight spaces, brilliant at progressing the ball either by passing or running, and capable in both possession and transition phases.

Two things present themselves to the mind when considering these qualities. The first is that, in getting this profile of player, a case could be made for Everton as winners of the transfer window this summer. The second is that it would be unwise for Arsenal to allow Iwobi leave at this time.

This is not to paint a picture of him as perfect, or even some sort of underappreciated genius simply waiting to come alive in just the right setting.

There are still kinks in Iwobi’s game: he can struggle for consistency, and does not score enough goals for a forward player. However, in spite of these, the appraisal of him as a player has rather unfairly focused on what he cannot do, thereby taking attention away from what he can, and does, do.

For a player whose utility is often underappreciated, a move away from the gaze of a major fanbase would likely do him a world of good, affording him the quietude that lends itself to introspection and growth, as well as increased relevance as a nailed-on first-team player.

However, there is room for him at Arsenal, or at least for a player in his mould, under the right circumstances and within the right system.

The signing of Nicolas Pepe this summer was, in some ways, a flexing of the club’s muscle, and the eyes of many have lit up at the prospect of a link-up with Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in a forward trio.

This would, naturally, preclude Iwobi’s use on the left side of the attack where he often featured last term.

The temptation to try to blitz opponents in that fashion is a tantalizing one, but it is likely unworkable in reality without a change of system. Iwobi’s ability to come toward the ball would be crucial in allowing the team transition up the pitch as teams sit deeper.

So, much as it is a move that makes sense for Everton, and would be interesting for Iwobi to consider, Arsenal would do well to keep him at the Emirates Stadium this summer.