There is always a buzz of excitement when young players are given an opportunity to impress in the first-team and the impact made by Alex Iwobi at Arsenal this season suggests that the best policy with starlets is to throw them straight into senior action rather than sending them out on loan.
With some clubs, most notably Chelsea, there is a tendency to constantly send players out on loan but that approach sometimes doesn’t work as players can often struggle to fit in at their temporary clubs and end up wasting an entire season of their career.
Iwobi was initially scheduled to go out on loan this season, but manager Arsene Wenger instead elected to keep the youngster at Arsenal and the decision has certainly proved to be an inspired one, with the 19-year-old having been excellent for the Gunners in recent weeks.
There are further examples of young players benefiting immensely from being thrown straight into first-team action, such as Marcus Rashford and Timothy Fosu-Mensah at Manchester United.
With regards to Iwobi, the youngster has been hugely impressive of late, registering an average pass accuracy of 83% in the Premier League this season. As an example of the negative impact that the loan system can have on a player’s career, Iwobi’s close friend Chuba Akpom was dispatched to Hull City for the season, but, despite a bright start, has struggled for consistency this campaign and in recent weeks has barely featured for Steve Bruce’s side.
It is tempting to think that had Akpom remained at Arsenal then it would have been more beneficial for his development as training with senior players is extremely useful for youngsters and enables them to remain embedded in the club’s style of play, whereas out on loan it can be far more difficult for them to make an impact.
Moreover, the highly regarded Gedion Zelalem has only impressed in patches for Rangers this season, and, at times, has struggled to cope with the physicality of Scottish second tier football. There have been suggestions that the midfielder could be promoted to the Arsenal first-team squad next season and Zelalem seems to be the type of player who would be more suited to playing with high-quality players with the Gunners as opposed to being asked to make an impact out on loan.
There have been many loan spells that have worked out in the past- Jack Wilshere at Bolton Wanderers is a glowing example- but there have also been several temporary transfers that didn’t have the desired effect- Hector Bellerin, for instance, wasn’t always a regular at Watford but is now Arsenal’s first-choice right-back.
Iwobi’s impact, as well as that of Rashford and Fosu-Mensah, indicates that certain youngsters benefit from being given a chance immediately and being cautious over their development can often be detrimental.
Iwobi trained with the Arsenal first-team for several months prior to being officially promoted, and that has certainly helped the youngster to settle in. The evidence of that has been clear on the pitch in recent weeks, with the prospect linking extremely well with high-quality players such as Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. He has also scored two goals in eight Premier League appearances this season.
Had he gone on loan this season, there is a strong chance that Iwobi would have been much further away from the first-team picture and his reputation wouldn’t be anywhere near as high as it is now.