With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in poor form, Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi looks to capitalize on his performance against Hull City.
Since Alex Iwobi stepped onto the pitch at the Liberty Stadium last year, he has been drawing support from the Arsenal base. Some claimed that, in time, he would surpass the two graduates that many assumed would form the foundation for Arsenal: Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. While Walcott has experienced a resurgence now that he has decided his proper position at 27, the Ox has not. Besides his wonder goal against Liverpool, he has struggled in the system Wenger is developing. Against PSG and again at Hull, Alex Iwobi is proving he can be the long-term solution on the left.
Alexis in the forward position requires a change in approach for the wide players. With Giroud as the focal point, both wingers either feed off his link-up play or stretch the pitch for the midfielders to support the attack. Consequently, Giroud rarely deviates from the center. Therefore the onus is on the wide players to occupy positions on the shoulder of the defence to receive the quick passes that the Frenchman generates. Combined with effective runners from midfield, it has proven to be a deadly tactic that requires defenders to make some uncomfortable decisions.
Alexis Sanchez is not this type of player. Because of his penchant to drift wide and receive the ball from deep, he leaves gaps between the forwards and midfield. When Monreal and Bellerin receive the ball out wide and look for a cross, there is no one there. In this system, play is built through the middle and is largely dependent on staggered runs and quick passes. Against Hull, they struggled to penetrate the defense and at times the three forwards would form a line outside the box, waiting for a through-ball. When play became stretched, spaces opened in the middle and the runs by Walcott and Iwobi proved to be dangerous.
What makes Iwobi dangerous is his ability to switch with Alexis, accompanied by his awareness to occupy advanced positions in the box. Leading up to the first goal, Iwobi found the space left by Elmohamady and Snodgrass at the far post. With the ball deflected by Jakupović, Iwobi fills the space Elmohamady left to follow Alexis and Clucas failed to cover. As a result, Iwobi is able to put a shot on goal. His positional awareness was on display against PSG in the tying goal and again here.
The second goal displayed his developing relationship with Alexis and Walcott. With Hull in retreat, Iwobi cut inside and filled the space off the shoulder of Davies and Robertson. As Alexis drifted out wide, he put Maguire into a tough position: stick with Alexis and hope Meyler helps or follow Walcott? Unfortunately, he did neither and left Walcott in a dangerous area where he would chip the goalkeeper.
Oxlade-Chamberlain hasn’t developed the level of understanding with Sanchez that Iwobi has. If you look at his heat map against Watford, he occupied the same space as Alexis. His passing stats show the same story: he is less willing to move inside and instead hugs the touchline, leaving the middle unoccupied. Iwobi shows no such tendencies. If Wenger wants to persist with Alexis up top, he would be smart to leave the Ox on the bench.