For years, Arsenal have been praised for their willingness to bring through young players without actually having much to show for it.
Hector Bellerin is the last player to have made the jump from the academy to the first team, but he arrived after a seven year spell with Barcelona. Cesc Fabregas travelled along the same path, while there have been other young debutants signed from elsewhere.
At their current level, breaking through at Arsenal is difficult enough. To do that in their packed midfield or forward line is even harder. To do it without any first-team experience to your name is tougher still.
Alex Iwobi does not do the easy jobs. He is a skilful footballer with the ability to unpick a defence, the sort of player that Arsenal have dreamed of coming through their academy for the last 10 years.
He is Arsene Wenger personified. The 20-year-old personifies the power and strength of Wenger’s greatest teams and combines it with the dribbling skill of uncle Jay-Jay Okocha.
Much has been demanded of him already. Even at his tender age he has the hopes of a once glorious footballing nation on his shoulders. Alongside Kelechi Iheanacho, Iwobi is thought of as the player to bring Nigeria back to prominence on the international stage.
The change in Arsenal’s forward line has also been notable since Iwobi began to be involved on a more regular basis.
ALEX IWOBI SEASON STATS
No longer are they utterly reliant on Mesut Ozil to play that killer ball. It reads like a criticism, but while Iwobi is nowhere near the player the German is, he is already becoming the assist prince at the Emirates. Three already this season in the Premier League is nothing to sniff at.
Ozil himself is impressed: ‘He knows exactly what he can do. He isn’t scared and doesn’t hide on the pitch. He just wants to have fun playing football and that really shows on the pitch, and also in training.’
On Wednesday he is likely to feature against Ludogorets in the Champions League, a significant seal of approval on Wenger’s part. It’s an open secret that the Arsenal manager sees winning Europe’s elite club competition as a missing aspect of his career. He finally believes he has the squad at his disposal with which to do it.
Not only that, but the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Ozil need to be shown, in an important year for their contracts, that Arsenal can push forward and eat at Europe’s top footballing table.
This year more than any, Wenger will be looking to ensure a smooth progression to the knockout stages, something Arsenal have consistently struggled with over the last few years.
Chopping and changing has always been an issue on Wenger’s part, and given they have taken four points from two games, a comfortable win against the Bulgarians would go a long way towards making top spot in the group their own.
To turn to Iwobi in that context suggests something about him as a player and his maturity – that he is someone, even with only 19 league appearances to his name, that Wenger feels he can trust in important matches.
There are still slight issues with Iwobi’s game. He could do with being slightly more clinical in front of goal, with a shot accuracy of just 25 per cent, the lowest figure for any Arsenal player who has taken a shot this season.
However, that’s just one criticism. He was superb in the opening exchanges against Chelsea, a game he started because the French manager believes he is among his best 11 players.
He combines brilliantly with the rest of the team, the clear result of being coached in the Wenger way for his entire development. It’s a part of his style of play that Wenger himself has noted:
‘Alex has a discreet way of assessing his place in the team.
‘He doesn’t talk a lot and he’s not what you’d call a flashy player.
‘He’s a player who connects the team, and that’s why I think he’s integrated so quickly – because our game is based on those combinations.’
To have established himself in that position with the players of value surrounding him – Sanchez, Ozil, Perez, Giroud, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – is incredible.
To have done it at such a tender age is even more impressive.
While he has made a telling impact on the Premier League already, Iwobi’s not managed to do so in Europe yet.
There will be few better opportunities to make that additional leap than on Wednesday night.