It's still not quite right to Alex Iwobi playing in Everton blue following his deadline-day move from Arsenal. The attacking midfielder’s transfer from North London caught the eye given he’d been at the club since he was eight, and the possibility of him playing for another side hadn't appeared likely until the death.
His departure from the club came after what was an improved 2018/19 season under Unai Emery, following a spell where he appeared to have stagnated.
In truth, Iwobi’s lack of progress was emblematic of the last years of Arsene Wenger’s reign, where the three-time Premier League champions suffered a hit to their status domestically and in Europe. This is highlighted in their failure to finish in the top four in three successive seasons, leading to their participation in the Europa League.
Having been revived by the Spanish manager, his sale was then somewhat unexpected as many were keen to see how he’d fare this season. Thus, it was unexpected that the playmaker was sold right when he seemed to be on the up again.
Perhaps removing him from the spotlight was what the dreadlocked Nigerian needed after the torrent of criticism he came under from Gooners in recent years.
He divided opinion among the club’s staunch supporters due to the randomness of his performances, and while the stick he came under sometimes bothered on absurd, on the other hand, it was likely a consequence of the frustration they felt over his inability to take his game to the next level.
After his impressive breakout year at Arsenal, which culminated in a Golden Ball nomination in 2016, fans bemoaned the lack of significant improvement in his game in the following years.
Even though complaints over his end product were repeated by critics who felt he didn’t produce enough goals and assists, it should also be noted that his overall in-game contribution was often ignored. That’s not to say he shouldn’t improve his end product, but he may finally get a bit of breathing space from supporters who’d see the glass as half full rather than half empty.
Iwobi hasn’t let up since his striking cameo against Aston Villa, which preceded two goals in the next two against Lincoln City and Wolverhampton Wanderers. His debut at Villa Park may have resulted in defeat for the Toffees, but, on an individual note, it was just what the Nigeria international needed.
He’s taken advantage of his honeymoon period in Marco Silva’s ambitious side, as hitting the ground running was necessary given the level of competition for places. While it is unrealistic to expect him to continue scoring at this rate, the expectation is a better record in the final third than he managed at Arsenal.
It's a reasonable expectation given that he’s nearing his prime years, but it’s never that straightforward. Nevertheless, the expectancy surrounding the midfielder ought to be helped by the ambition at Everton, who are aiming to break into the top six.
They have a chance of achieving that aim owing to the state of Manchester United and Chelsea, two of the constants in the continental positions. The pair have been unconvincing in the opening weeks of the campaign, with the dearth in overall quality of both teams lower than it has ever been.
It remains to be seen if any of the promising sides below the top six can finally break the hegemony that’s existed for years, but this year represents their best chance at success.
For Iwobi, the popular view in his last years at Arsenal claimed he’d become overly relaxed in North London and required a kick up the backside to fulfil his undoubted potential.
It is a view the attacker shares too, going by recent comments: “I was very comfortable [at Arsenal] and I was on holiday so I didn't think about any move,” Iwobi told Sky Sports.
“I got the call and thought about if this would be a better chance for me to improve myself as a player. I thought that this was a big opportunity and I shouldn't turn it down. I've got no regrets about the decision.”
In Emery’s maiden season, he did that in fits and starts, and can take it up a gear if he keeps putting in the hard yards at Finch Farm.
If he flourishes, it would put an end to recurring jibes of not being more than a toss-of-a-coin player incapable of taking his game to the next level.