Arsenal's Alex Iwobi happy to avoid loan for first-team chance
Alex Iwobi is glad Arsene Wenger decided against sending him out on loan this season, after breaking into the Arsenal first-team with two impressive performances over the last week.
Iwobi, 19, had expected to spend the campaign on loan at a lower league club but now finds himself in the spotlight after Wenger insisted he stayed in North London.
The Nigerian made his first Champions League start against Barcelona last week and followed that up with his first goal for the club in his full Premier League debut at Everton on Saturday.
While several of his former academy teammates have earned more playing time this season by going on loan to smaller clubs, Iwobi said his own development has been helped by staying to fight for a spot.
"With going out on loan, it's men's football so you have to win all the time [and develop] that 'anything to win' kind of mentality. So you learn things quicker on loan," Iwobi told the Arsenal Weekly podcast.
"But when you're playing with world-class players and training with them every day you become a better footballer in my opinion. You learn a lot more training with the likes of [Mesut] Ozil and [Alexis] Sanchez."
Iwobi joined the Arsenal academy when he was eight and has followed the likes of Jack Wilshere in coming through the youth ranks and making the senior team.
Wenger started him in Arsenal's first four FA Cup games of the season, where he impressed with his blend of power, technique and vision in a central playmaking role. Then against Barcelona and Everton, Iwobi showed his versatility by moving out on the right wing and scored with a composed finish on a quick counter-attack at Goodison Park.
Iwobi, who is the nephew of former Nigeria star Jay-Jay Okocha, has been training with the senior squad all season and was told by Wenger in February that he was officially being promoted.
"I found out before an away game, the boss said by next week you'll have moved into the first-team dressing room," Iwobi recalled. "Oh, wow. At first I just said 'thank you' but on the inside I was just buzzing."
While Wilshere has yet to play this season because of an ankle injury, Arsenal's dressing room has other academy graduates in Hector Bellerin, Kieran Gibbs and Francis Coquelin who have helped Iwobi settle in.
He added: "They advised me with a few things, but more often they try to keep me cool and relaxed and level headed."