Manchester — There's growing competition for discovery of
the season in the English Premier League.
Leading the way are N'Golo Kante, the box-to-box French
midfielder propelling Leicester to an unlikely title triumph; Dele Alli, the
Tottenham playmaker plucked from England's third tier; and Marcus Rashford,
Manchester United's 18-year-old striker who seems born for the big time.
Time to add Arsenal winger Alex Iwobi to the list.
Iwobi, like Rashford, is a shy yet fearless teenager who has
burst onto center stage in the world's most popular league in recent weeks.
Arsenal's all-star midfield is a tough department to break into, yet Iwobi has
achieved it seemingly out of nowhere.
He has started four of Arsenal's last five matches,
including a Champions League game away to the mighty Barcelona. He has scored
and been named man of the match in the last two appearances, against Everton
and Watford in the Premier League.
Theo Walcott is in desperate need of game time to retain his
place in England's squad for the European Championship, but is currently
playing second fiddle to Iwobi on the right wing.
He may have to get used to it.
Iwobi, 19, is the nephew of Nigeria great Jay-Jay Okocha and
has been at Arsenal since the age of 8, having grown up in London. He is a
powerful, hard-working, technically gifted attacker with an eye for goal — just
as Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger likes it.
Also read: Arsenal tie down Iwobi with new £30 000-a-week five-year deal
Iwobi, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez as the three floating
forwards behind the main striker? It's some prospect and already proving a big
"He is an intelligent boy who loves football, very
passionate about the game, keen to learn, very humble as well," Wenger has
said of Iwobi.
"It's surprising how quickly he's integrated into our
Iwobi's accomplished display at the Camp Nou really made
people sit up and take note of a player who didn't start a game in the first
half of the season. During the recent international break, Iwobi made his debut
for Nigeria in a loss to Egypt — stamping his allegiance to the African country
having played for England's youth teams up to under-18 level.
A call-up to Nigeria's squad for the Olympics in Rio de
Janeiro in August is in the offing — but first he might just be Arsenal's
secret weapon as the team looks to secure a 19th straight season of Champions
Impressive wins over Everton and Watford have consolidated
third place with seven games left, and even kept Arsenal with an outside shot
at the title. That, however, would require an implosion by surprise leader
Leicester, which is seven clear of second-place Tottenham and 11 ahead of
Arsenal, which has a game in hand.
Arsenal visits West Ham on Saturday, while Leicester travels
to relegation-threatened Sunderland and Tottenham hosts Manchester United.
Here are some other things to look out for this weekend:
TITLE IN SIGHT
Leicester is grinding out the wins as it closes on arguably
the most stunning title success in English soccer history, having picked up
four straight 1-0 victories ahead of the trip to Sunderland.
Sunderland is proving tough to beat of late, drawing its
last four games, but has slipped four points from safety. Sunderland might be
in more desperate need of the points at the Stadium of Light.
VILLA ON BRINK
Last-place Aston Villa will be relegated on Saturday if the
team fails to match, or better, the number of points picked up by
Villa, which is 15 points behind Norwich, is at home to
Bournemouth. Norwich visits Crystal Palace.
Manchester United will be hoping neighbor Manchester City
has one eye on reaching the Champions League semifinals when it plays this
weekend, with fourth place still in the balance.
City may choose to rest key players for its home match
against West Bromwich Albion, which comes between the two legs of its Champions
League quarterfinal against Paris Saint-Germain. United has a much tougher game
against title-chasing Spurs at White Hart Lane.For
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