Nigeria may have found themselves on the wrong end of a convincing 2-0 loss at the hands of Serbia on Tuesday night, but for Alex Iwobi there was cause for optimism even in defeat.
Though unable to fire Nigeria to victory at The Hive, it was clear the international break has freed Iwobi to show what he can do rather than what he feels he ought to for the good of the team.
There is an obvious reason for that. Nigeria head coach Gernot Rohr may have an exciting young squad to take to Russia but he hardly has creators on a par with Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Iwobi is perhaps the nearest the Super Eagles have to a playmaker, and certainly looked like their best hope of a goal as they laboured against a disciplined Serbia.
Twice in the first half the 21-year-old went close, a fine touch and turn in the box teeing him up for a goal-bound volley that was well blocked by Aleksandar Kolarov. Even in a low-intensity second period Iwobi shone as his close control on the right flank brought Nigeria out of trouble and freed his team-mates to counter.
“With us all the time he’s very good, already in Poland [where Nigeria won 1-0] and he was fantastic tonight,” Rohr told Standard Sport.
“Perhaps some times [he did] a little too much individually, he wanted to make a show. We prefer collective football.
“I don’t know what the tactical options of Arsene Wenger are when he’s with Arsenal but with us he’s free offensively and he can show all his qualities.”
Nigeria may have come away from Barnet licking their wounds, though it was largely to do with a youthful defence incapable of taming Aleksandar Mitrovic and the woeful display of Ahmed Musa as a central striker.
For Iwobi this was a reminder of what made him such an exhilarating addition to the Arsenal side two years ago. A willingness to engage opponents, this short, sharp passing and direct running: all traits of the youngster’s bright start but now all too rarely been spotted.
Both the player and Arsene Wenger would do well to remember that, for all the defensive discipline that has made Iwobi a valuable option against top-tier opposition, there is a vibrant creator waiting to be unleashed.