It was not long ago that it was him impressing as an unheralded youngster, leading to his eventual promotion to the first-team for competitive games.
Things have changed dramatically for the Nigerian over the past 18 months, and now he is a regular member of the senior squad facing a crucial summer period. Iwobi still has plenty to prove.
That shouldn’t come as any great surprise – despite his preternatural maturity in possession, Iwobi is still only 21. Expecting him to be the finished article at this stage would be absurd.
There was an element of ‘second season syndrome’ about Iwobi’s 2016/17. He began the campaign as first-choice, with his languid style on the left a natural counterpoint to Alexis Sanchez at central striker. However, as the season wore on, Iwobi suffered on two fronts.
Firstly, Arsenal switched back to playing with a conventional centre-forward, meaning Alexis was pushed back into Iwobi’s spot on the left.
More troublingly, he suffered a visible dip in form. When Iwobi first broke into the team, one of the most striking things about him was that inherent assurance in his technique and his ability – he just looked like he belonged. With the team suffering, Iwobi’s confidence dipped, and Wenger plainly felt it better to take him out of the firing line.
It was telling that when Arsenal embarked on a run of 10 wins from 11 to rescue their season, Iwobi made just two substitute appearances for a combined total of 55 minutes.
There is plenty of evidence at Arsenal of how easy it is for a young player to fall from grace. Take Calum Chambers – he had a very bright start to his career at the Emirates Stadium, before a poor run of form saw him out of favour with the manager.
His first-team chances were also hurt by the arrival of another young player of a similar age in the same position, Rob Holding.
That is the situation Iwobi stands to face if Arsenal get their way over Lemar. Like Iwobi, he is 21 years old. Also like Iwobi, he has spent most of his career playing from the left flank.
However, the similarities do not end there: both combine powerful dribbling with intelligent passing, and both are ultimately expected to assume a position in the centre of the pitch.
Arsenal’s bid for Lemar is not necessarily an indicator that Wenger has lost faith in Iwobi. There is room for them both in the squad (especially given the uncertainty over certain other creative players), but it’s clear Iwobi needs to step up his performances if he’s to win back his first-team place.
Speaking after Arsenal’s first fixture against Sydney FC, Iwobi admitted he has a “point to prove” this summer:
“I didn’t play as much as I’d like to last year. I want to start the season with a bang. I’ve been doing a bit of running and ball work to prepare.
“I need to be a bit more hungry this year, add more goals and assists. At the start of last season I played a lot. I want to do that all year. Consistency is the key with me.
“Goals win games. I need to add that. Arsene Wenger spoke to me towards the end of last season. Show me you’re able to do that and ill give you a chance.”
Goals are certainly something that would Iwobi’s case – after all, Lemar bagged 14 for Monaco last season, and finishing isn’t even regarded as one of his stronger suits.
The promising news is that Iwobi’s diligent physical preparation appears to be paying dividends. He’s looked one of the sharper players in Arsenal’s first two friendlies, and it was he who created Alexandre Lacazette’s first Gunners goal with a driving run and pull-back.
Greater tests are on the horizon. The next week sees Arsenal in ‘friendly’ action against Bayern Munich and Chelsea. Iwobi knows he must continue to impress to be assured of game-time when the competitive campaign kicks-off.
Can Iwobi kick on this season and become one of Arsenal’s top playmakers? Let us know in the comments below.