The careers of Alex Iwobi and Chuba Akpom have been interlinked from the very beginning. The pair, who are close friends, played together in a local team prior to joining Arsenal and both progressed through the ranks at the Hale End academy.
There was a buzz of excitement about both players, but for many years the majority of the focus was on Akpom. It was the forward who featured for the U18s first, who started for the U21s as a first-year scholar and who made his senior debut aged 17.
Prior to this season Akpom had nine Arsenal first-team appearances to his name while Iwobi had none. The latter has now featured 14 times for Arsene Wenger’s side and, against Everton last week, achieved something that Akpom is yet to do by scoring a first-team goal for the Gunners in a competitive fixture.
Both players are clearly talented and, having been brought up at the club, are excellent technically. One key difference at this stage, however, is that Iwobi appears rather less selfish on the ball than Akpom and is adept at bringing others into play.
Akpom has his qualities- he is powerful and capable of beating players with ease- but his finishing, especially in first-team football, is rather inconsistent. The striker is spending the season on loan at Hull City in the Championship but has only mustered seven goals in 35 appearances in all competitions, suggesting that there is room for improvement.
Iwobi is far from the finished article, either, but at present the Nigeria international appears more ready to feature in the Arsenal first-team. His intelligent link-up play has been in evidence in recent games, with the youngster fending off competition from the likes of Theo Walcott and Joel Campbell to start.
Iwobi hasn’t made it yet, and may well have to go out on loan himself at some stage in his development, but for now the youngster is closer to the first-team picture than Akpom is. In fact, Iwobi has benefited from not going out on loan this season as injuries and the disappointing form of others has provided him with an opportunity at Arsenal.
Now the onus is on Akpom to prove that he too is worthy of a place in the first-team and it would be satisfying if the two players, having started out playing together, eventually end up alongside eachother in the Arsenal first-team, albeit after taking different paths to get there.
At the moment, though, and this sentence would have sounded preposterous had it been written a year ago, it is Iwobi, rather than Akpom, who is closer to fulfilling his dream of succeeding at Arsenal.