Carlo Ancelotti has got Everton fans hopeful of ending their long tiresome wait without Champions League football, with the Toffees finally being on the cusp of breaking into the elusive top six. Ancelotti’s men have massively improved this season, winning 19 games in all competitions out of a possible 32. To put that into perspective, Everton won three fewer games during the entirety of the 19/20 campaign, winning 16 out of a possible 43.
Despite being criticised for poor recruitment over recent years, the 2020 summer window saw huge success for Everton, who pulled off the impressive acquisitions of Allan, Abdoulaye Doucouré, Ben Godfrey and most notably, James Rodríguez – all of whom have been stellar during Everton’s resurgence under the experienced Italian coach.
In the previous summer, then-manager Marco Silva spent over £100 million on the likes of Moise Kean, Jean-Phillipe Gbamin and Alex Iwobi. Whilst the jury is still out on the former two, the latter raised eyebrows during his first season, contributing to just 1 goal in 25 league appearances.
There were instant question marks surrounding the initial £28 million Arsenal received for the Nigerian, with the transfer coming seemingly out of nowhere. Despite being a boyhood Gooner, Iwobi was intrigued by a new challenge at Goodison Park, with his playing time uncertain under Unai Emery.
Iwobi made the switch and things started brightly for the Super Eagle, who scored 2 goals in his first 2 starts for the Toffees, scoring in both the EFL Cup and the Premier League. Unfortunately, when Everton hit a slump in form under Marco Silva, Iwobi’s confidence seemed to take a big hit and he never quite managed to get it back, featuring sporadically under new boss Carlo Ancelotti. This loss of confidence is something that was also apparent at times at Arsenal, where if he made a mistake it would usually lead to another.
However, the attacking midfielder has seemingly revitalised his Everton career this season, which looked to have already stagnated after rumours circulated surrounding a possible exit in the summer transfer window prior. Whilst injuries to the likes of Rodríguez, Seamus Coleman and Lucas Digne were big blows for the Toffees, Iwobi took this as an opportunity to find his way back into Ancelotti’s thoughts.
His resurgence began at Craven Cottage, where Ancelotti unexpectedly rejigged his system to a 3-4-3 formation against Fulham, rather than the typical 4-3-3. Iwobi, naturally a #10, took the role of right wing-back and surprised everybody with his performance. Playing from this deeper position on the right seemed to suit the Nigerian to a tee, completing a game-high 4 dribbles and an assist being unluckily ruled out for offside following a brilliant low delivery for Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Since then, Iwobi has established himself as a valuable squad member for Ancelotti, playing in right-wing back, left wing-back and right midfield when the Toffees play a 4-4-2. He has also occupied the right half-space when reverting to 4-2-3-1.
His consistent performances have stood out when he’s played on the right, contributing to Everton’s fine form which sees them sit 7th in the table – level on points with local rivals Liverpool, with a game in hand. His role allows him to make bursting runs and deliver balls into the box, providing an extra attacking presence, as well as holding his own defensively, boasting 17 successful tackles out of 26 attempts (65% tackle success).
Being a Gooner myself, I admittedly have a soft spot for players who have come through the ranks at Arsenal, such as Serge Gnabry, Jack Wilshere and Isaac Hayden. However, even when putting my Arsenal bias to the side, I always knew there was a player in Iwobi. I was one of the few that didn’t laugh at the £28 million Everton spent on him and have backed him since, despite registering just 1 goal in 25 league games in his first season at Goodison. Still only 24, his underlying numbers for linking play and progressing into the penalty box have always been solid, as well as his ability to beat a man or two with a dribble.
Providing just 2 goals and 3 assists so far this season, it’s clear his end product needs to improve – something that cost him at Arsenal too. But there’s no doubt that Iwobi has grabbed the brass ring this season, solidifying himself into the Everton team. He’s now a player that the club should look to keep around, with the investment beginning to look like it may pay off.
Iwobi must now maintain this level of consistency and improve in front of goal if he is to make a stride to the next level. For now at least, whilst he may not always be a first-choice starter, the versatile Nigerian can provide competent backup in a number of positions. Ultimately, Alex Iwobi has proven to be a good squad player for a good Premier League side.
By: James Lloyd
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Tony McArdle – Everton FC