Premier League
December 5, 2016

Could Iwobi adapt to a deeper midfield role?

Why Arsenal's young Nigerian has what it takes to replace Santi Cazorla in midfield



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The 15/16 season saw Arsene Wenger play Iwobi in a number of early cup games, predominantly as a #10, with the license to roam and do damage in the final third while not having to do much defensive work. In the second half of that season Iwobi become a first team regular, he found his opportunity to start due to dips in form from existing forwards, and an injury to Santi Cazorla that created a need for a player who could provide good link-up play and penetrating passes.

Despite his inexperience, Iwobi has quickly integrated into Arsenal’s new look attack and developed strong connections with Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez. His close control and ability to pick out a final pass not only added a new dimension to Arsenal but also took some of the creative burden away from Mesut Özil.

Press resistant midfielders

In the modern game it’s not enough for midfielders to just run around like a headless chicken and chip in with a goal every couple of games. Being technically reliable has become more important than physicality which is why smaller midfielders such as Xavi, Cazorla, Silva and Nasri have thrived in deeper roles.

It’s becoming increasingly harder to sign press resistant midfielders, with most of them already at the elite clubs, which is why I believe Arsenal should make an attempt to transition Iwobi to a central position. Not only could this potentially enhance Iwobi’s overall game but also give the Gunners a ready-made replacement for the midfield maestro Cazorla.

When Arsene Wenger moved Cazorla to a deeper position, many thought this would be a temporary solution to Arsenal’s midfield problems but he actually became key to their build up play. With teams creating better pressing systems, Cazorla’s importance grew every week. Unfortunately, with persistent injury problems, Arsenal are having to once again rebuild their midfield.

Creating passing angles

Iwobi obviously receives a lot of praise for what he does on the ball, but in my opinion his movement and positioning is the most underrated part of his game. When Iwobi is off the ball his movement is excellent, especially in the half spaces around the box. He’s constantly looking to find space to receive the ball in these positions and trying to create passing angles for his teammates.

As you can see in the picture below, Iwobi drifts into the half space between Chelsea’s defence and midfield to provide more angles for Özil to work with.

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Iwobi is not only comfortable receiving the ball high up the pitch but also in deeper areas. As you can see in the image below, Arsenal are outnumbered in midfield so Iwobi drops deep to offer himself as another passing option in the build up.

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Defensive side of the game

Defensively Iwobi has a lot of work to do, as Arsenal’s left side has been attacked numerous times this season due to him switching off defensively. Arsene Wenger loves to give his attacking midfielders as much creative freedom as possible, so it’s no surprise that when Arsenal lose the ball their left-back Nacho Monreal has been exposed to a lot of 2 on 1 situations.

Although Iwobi’s defending has improved, as we saw in the 3-0 win against Chelsea, it’s far from being good enough to become an accomplished central midfielder. Arsenal are a very front-footed team with defenders and midfielders that like to intercept rather than sit deep and soak up pressure, so Iwobi must learn to consistently cut off passing lanes and cover distances, which he isn’t used to doing.

His stamina is also a concern as he is often brought off with around 20 minutes remaining. In fact he’s only completed 90 minutes in two of his last fifteen games. This is a big worry because central midfielders should be some of the most consistent and reliable players in the starting XI. One potential short-term solution to Iwobi’s stamina problems could be to have him replaced by Elneny late in games to offer a more conservative midfield approach.

A change in formation could possibly be made to help Iwobi’s transition into becoming a central midfielder. In the image below I moved Iwobi into a three-man midfield, this would keep the distances between him and other midfielders shorter and also give him more defensive support.

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There are both advantages and potential flaws of playing Iwobi in a deeper position. He’s far from the complete package, so converting him into a central midfielder could potentially be a very risky move, but players with his ability have the potential to be the heartbeat of their teams.

For now, Iwobi’s rapid rise to becoming a key member of Arsenal’s squad may be enough to satisfy Arsene Wenger, but with Cazorla’s injuries mounting, Arsenal are in need of a long-term replacement.

About this author

afcJonathan

Arsenal fan and blogger.

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