Why Alex Iwobi's return spells bad news for Zambia
Alex Iwobi marked his return to the Arsenal team with a goal for the Gunners against Brighton this past weekend, and Zambia will be hoping that form does not translate to the Super Eagles.
It is perfect timing for the youngster, who missed a few matches due to injury in September, as he joins up with his side in Uyo for the 2018 World Cup qualifier against Zambia.
The timing is not so perfect for Chipolopolo though, who will remember the last time they faced the Arsenal starlet, in October 2016 in an earlier qualifying round. On that day in Ndola, the attacking midfielder sizzled imperiously and opened the scoring for his side. His short passing, direct running, and intelligent movement proved too much for the host defenders to handle as the Super Eagles ran out 2-1 winners.
His return now, after missing last month's two-legged fixture against Cameroon, will leave Chipolopolo cursing their luck and this fixture's timing. Incidentally, that goal remains his only strike for the Super Eagles in 10 appearances, since making his international debut in a 2-0 defeat to DR Congo in a friendly in Belgium nearly a year ago.
Beyond the lone strike though, it is his partnership with Leicester City forward Kelechi Iheanacho that really brings the party home. Friends and roommates off the pitch, the players have developed the sort of telepathic understanding that defenders get nightmares about.
When they play together, Iwobi is always looking to play give-and-go with Iheanacho; his tendency to pinch into the middle complementing the Foxes man's own inclination to drift out wide on occasion in search of the ball.
Even without Iheanacho, Iwobi not only has the ability to link play with whichever central striker is ahead of him, but also to find gaps in defensive positions and thread excellently-weighted passes through them. Whether he starts or not, Iwobi's return presents all sorts of trouble for this particular opposition.
With Victor Moses, Moses Simon and Ahmed Musa, the Super Eagles are already spoiled for choice in the wide forward areas. Throwing in the 21-year-old Gunner just makes the competition even stiffer.
With Chelsea's Moses out injured previously, Gernot Rohr had settled on Iwobi and Simon as his starting wide forwards. But the Chelsea man is a dead cert to start, leaving competition for the other spot down to the other three men.
Whoever gets to start does so knowing he has two more champing at the bit, waiting to come in, and mistakes will be harshly judged.