It was against Chelsea at the Emirate Stadium in September 2016 that Alex Iwobi really showed why he was not just another flash in the pan.
The Nigerian had been enjoying a breakout season with Arsenal that season (2016/2017) and against Chelsea, he showed the qualities that had aided his promotion to the first team.
Playing from the left side of a midfield four, Iwobi was a torn in the flesh for then Chelsea right-back Branislav Ivanovic.
There was something smooth about his performance on that Saturday evening in North London, gliding through the Chelsea defence on some occasions and playing delicate and piercing through balls for Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott.
The build-up to Arsenal’s second game in that 3-0 win showed Iwobi at his silky best. Composed and with his back to the Chelsea goal, Iwobi exchanged played a one-two with Mesut Ozil, turned with two, three touches before cutting up the defence with a pass to Hector Bellerin who square-played for Walcott to score an easy tap-in.
It was Iwobi at his best. Two years later, it’s still one of the things he does best from the left side of midfield. Cutting inside the midfield to float disturbing passes inside the opposition box.
Judging him by that performance, Iwobi has not scaled the heights of his career, which has been the biggest criticisms and the frustrations of many Arsenal and Super Eagles fans. However, he has somehow continued to be influential in games against Chelsea.
Arsenal were beaten 1-3 in the second-leg at Stamford Bridge with a lot of lethargic performances from the Gunners. But Iwobi wasn’t bad in the game. He was one of Arsenal’s standout players.
He was on the bench all through when Arsenal won 2-1 in the FA Cupfinal in May 2017 to take the title.
In the Community Shield at Wembley a couple of weeks later which Arsenal via a penalty shoot-out, he troubled Chelsea again with a lively performance.
He skinned David Luiz on one occasion, started a move from the Arsenal half that led to Alexandre Lacazette hitting the post with an effort and showed his nimble feet by getting away from a couple of Chelsea defenders before directing his effort straight to the goalkeeper.
He was a surprise starter at Stamford Bridge just over a month later as Arsenal were without star men Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil for a Premier League clash.. Iwobi was impressive yet again, threading weighted passes to both Arsenal full backs on a couple of occasions.
He wasn’t called from the bench in the 2-2 draw at the Emirate Stadium for the return leg of the Premier League fixture.
What followed was a 180-minute appearance over two legs of the 2018 League Cup semi-finals.
Operating from the middle, Iwobi was very lively, helping Arsenal to transit quickly from defence to attack but it was his tenacity that stood out on the day, constantly pressing and helping Arsenal to keep the shape which gave them a goalless draw away from home.
In the return leg the following week, he played from the left of what looked like a front three where he was also dangerous cutting inside to thread balls inside the Chelsea box.
He set up Jack Wilshere with a fine pass played from the left to the Chelsea box but the English midfielder’s first touch let him down.
He was lively once again and could have taken the game out Chelsea’s reach but failed to score from a quick counter to make it 3-1. Arsenal went on to win 2-1 to progress to the final.
After cutting his holiday short to join Arsenal on a pre-season tour of China in the summer of 2018, Iwobi was a second-half substitute in an International Champions Cup clash against Chelsea in Dublin.
A second-half substitute, Iwobi played a crucial part for Arsenal as they turned on the pressure on Chelsea for an equaliser.
He fluffed a chance and saw the goalkeeper save his effort after a brilliant build-up by Arsenal.
After Lacazette equaliser, it was Iwobi who scored Arsenal’s winning kick in their shootout victory.
In August, Arsenal visited Stamford Bridge where Iwobi did a madness in the first half although it wasn’t enough for the Gunners who lost 2-3.
Iwobi was unplayable in the first half, delivering one of his best performances in an Arsenal shirt.
Starting on the left of Emery’s 4-2-3-1, Iwobi was Arsenal’s most dangerous player causing Cesar Azpilicueta and the Chelsea defence lots of problems.
Chelsea ran into a 2-0 lead but Arsenal inspired by Iwobi, found their way back before halftime.
It was his cut-back that found Henrikh Mkhitaryan who pulled one back for Arsenal before Iwobi himself got on the end of an excellent build-up play from the back to bring the Gunners level.
Iwobi’s brilliance shone in that first half. His hold-up play, delicate passes and movement inside the box troubled Chelsea who were lucky to go into halftime level.
Iwobi seems to love games against Chelsea and Saturday’s clash at the Emirate Stadium present an opportunity for him to shine again.
It’s another big game for Arsenal he will be looking to dominate as he has done all season for the Gunners. After the game against Chelsea earlier in the season, Iwobi was a game changer for Arsenal in their 1-1 draw at home to Liverpool where he came on to assist the Gunners’ leveller.
At Anfield where the Gunners were thrashed 5-1 by Liverpool, Iwobi was head and shoulders above every Arsenal player.
Saturday is another big game and Emery and all Arsenal fans will be hoping Iwobi can be the difference again.