Alex Iwobi shows why he remains Emery’s delight in Arsenal’s FA Cup loss to Manchester United

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Alex Iwobi is a frustrating figure at Arsenal; one game he is tying knots around defences with some deft feet and incisive passing, the next, he is being let down by his heavy touches and imaginative plays. Most times, he is all of these in the same game.

Against Manchester United on Friday night, he altered between his strengths and weaknesses, showing why he is Unai Emery’s delight and at the same time exasperating fans.

He started on the left of Arsenal’s forward where he had lots of duels with Ashley Young, pegging the Manchester United fullback back in his own half and causing lots of problems with his passes inside the opposition box.

He ran at Young at every given opportunity but never got better of the Manchester United defender individually. What Iwobi did best was engaging his man on one-on-one situations then exploiting the space behind for a teammate.

 Alex Iwobi gave the Manchester United a hard time on Friday night (Chloe Knott – Danehouse/Getty Images)

It was with this play he started the move for Arsenal’s only goal of the game, going round in circles in possession of the ball before playing in Aaron Ramsey whose cross was converted by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Despite his influence in the game, he also divided opinions among Arsenal fans. Some felt he held on to the ball too long at times and misplaced lots of passes. But in Iwobi’s defence, he thrives mainly off the runs of teammates and on occasions when no one opens up for him, he gets hard-pressed and plays a wayward pass.

There is also a racial undertone in the way he is perceived by Arsenal fans, but that’s a conversation that requires a lot of nuance and readiness to shred all coyness. And this is not the time for that conversation.

Iwobi’s importance to Arsenal was highlighted in his absence on Friday night. He was substituted for Mesut Ozil in the 64th minute but his replacement was a peripheral figure all through the game. Arsenal unmistakably looked the better side when Iwobi was on the pitch.

 Alex Iwobi was taken off for Mesut Ozil but the German wasn’t as influential for Arsenal (Action Images via Reuters)

Arsenal’s attack got worse after his substitution. There was no urgency in attack, the penetrative passes into the box’s stopped and there was really nobody to unsettle the Manchester United defence.

While a slew of Arsenal fans continues to question Iwobi’s place in the starting XI, Emery has stuck by the young Nigerian at the expense of more established names like Ozil and Ramsey, on Friday night, the reason was crystal-clear.

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