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Alex Iwobi’s 2022: Resurgence or another false dawn?

12:20 PM GMT 28/12/2022
Alex Iwobi Everton 2022-23
The Everton man received criticism for his performance against Wolverhampton Wanderers, resurrecting old doubts from some of the club’s supporters.

That did not take long, did it? The knives were out for Alex Iwobi during and after Everton’s 2-1 defeat by Wolverhampton Wanderers on Boxing Day.

The team that began the latest Premier League round escaped with all three points at the death through Rayan Ait-Nouri. The left-back’s late finish saw frustration spread all over Goodison Park and the boos that rang out at full-time demonstrated the irritation at losing to Julen Lopetegui’s team.

Everton may have lost coherence after going ahead early doors through Yerry Mina, but they still fashioned enough chances to win Monday’s game. They edged possession, shots and Expected Goals, the latter seeing the Toffees dominate 1.6-0.7, immediately suggesting Wolves were clinical, whereas the Merseyside club were profligate.

The latter assertion is evidenced by Anthony Gordon and Alex Iwobi’s misses at 1-1, with Frank Lampard’s usually top performers failing to convert their favourable situations into goals. The Nigerian’s 48th-minute header was attacked with little conviction, although replays showed that any goal that resulted from that move would not have stood as the 26-year-old was offside.

That said, it did not stop the criticism of the Super Eagle, who has divided opinion for most of his career at Arsenal and more recently at Everton. The latest round of disapproval is an upshot of the recent on-field success, which has seen the Nigerian assume responsibility for the side’s ball progression through passing and carries.

Taking it to the next level this season resulted in some final-third product, with Iwobi registering four league assists before the World Cup in Qatar, outdone by only Kevin De Bruyne (nine) and Bukayo Saka (six).

Seven players in the league have set up five goals or higher, with the Nigeria international the only representative outside the top six in England’s top division.

That resurgence was not lost on the decision-makers at Everton, with the club confirming contract talks were ongoing before the global showpiece and Lampard repeating the midfielder was close to an agreement in last week’s press conference before facing Wolves.

There was not much disapproval from the Everton support at the time, but that changed after the final whistle on Monday. Supporters were beside themselves with rage at full-time, with the manager and players not spared by the disgruntled home support.

Social media is often reactionary but it helps to understand the general mood and atmosphere around a club.

Indeed, it is safe to say Iwobi bore the brunt of Monday’s censure. Some likened the former Arsenal man to a Championship midfielder, others kicked against the club’s decision to hand him a lucrative new contract, especially as relegation remains a possibility.

Admittedly, the anger is understandable. Everton have lost three Premier League games in succession and have picked up four points from their last eight in the competition.

The opponents in the recent defeats have added to the anxiety. Leicester City were still close to the bottom when they beat Lampard’s men 2-0, struggling Bournemouth’s win before the pause was the Cherries’ only success in six league games (four losses), and Wolves were the division’s cellar-dwelling side before the ongoing gameweek began.

The nature of the club’s recent reverse means such a reactionary response was expected, with the Toffees in free fall and likely to end 2022 in the bottom three. Unfortunately, Iwobi has been caught in the crossfire, but it would be remiss to ignore the Nigerian’s improvement since Lampard took the helm at Finch Farm.

A purple patch lasts a few games, but what Iwobi produced in the final months of last season in the Merseyside outfit’s relegation tussle, and at the start of 2022-23, suggest he had found the required consistency to flourish at this level.

In a sense, the 26-year-old is a victim of that success, but he cannot be brought back to earth following a couple of games either side of the World Cup in which he had his shirt thrown at him at Bournemouth and was seemingly made a lightning rod for Boxing Day’s loss to Lopetegui’s men.

2022 was undoubtedly the year of Iwobi’s resurgence, and the Super Eagle must keep his chin up despite the recent criticism.

It may get worse for Everton on the pitch before it gets better, but the abuse, whilst far from ideal, now has to feel like water off a duck’s back for the Nigeria international.

The ex-Arsenal man is tough as nails and undoubtedly more resilient than he thinks.