Arsenal concern over Nigeria’s hot stuff

Teen star Alex Iwobi scored on his first start for Arsenal in their important 2-0 Premier League victory over Everton at the weekend
Teen star Alex Iwobi scored on his first start for Arsenal in their important 2-0 Premier League victory over Everton at the weekend

Arsenal teenager Alex Iwobi should be fit to turn out for Nigeria in their important Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier after recovering from a bout of food poisoning contracted in Abuja.

Iwobi, who scored on his full debut in a Man of the Match performance for the Gunners at Everton last weekend, was hospitalised in Ajuba on Monday. He was unable to train with the Super Eagles squad until Wednesday and he has since travelled with his teammates to Kaduna, where the crucial match will be played.

In an era where professional sportsmen and women’s diets are calculated and controlled to the nth degree, the 19-year-old’s paymasters at the Emirates Stadium will be perturbed to learn that a dish of Nigeria’s notorious Hot Pepper Soup is rumoured to have been the reason the youngster was struck down.

The latest in a long line of kids developed by Arsene Wenger and his coaching team, Iwobi, who represented England at youth level, may prove to be the England senior squad’s ‘one that got away’, having already made his debut for Nigeria in a friendly against DR Congo in October.

He was trusted enough to be introduced as a substitute in the Gunners’ ultimately futile quest to overturn a two-goal deficit against European champions Barcelona in the round of sixteen second leg of this year’s completion – and performed well enough to earn a staring slot days later against Everton. He repaid Arsene Wenger by coolly slotting home Arsenal’s opening goal in a 2-0 victory that leaves them with a fighting chance of grabbing what many pundits suggest is the North Londoners’ best chance of ending their league title drought.

Iwobi’s rapid rise to prominence may see him called upon with his country desperately needing a win over Egypt, who currently lead AFCON qualifier Group G. A loss would see Egypt extend their lead in the group to five points with three to play and only the group winners assured of qualification. Should the Super Eagles fail to win their group, they will need to rely on having the best or second best record of thirteen group runners-up.

After being released from hospital, the youngster has tweeted: “Had The Maddest Food Poisoning But I Am Good Now & Feeling Ready For The Egyptian Match.”

Iwobi was born in Lagos but, having only represented Nigeria in friendlies, could technically still play for England if he doesn’t make it onto the field of play on Friday. But his family, which includes Nigeria legend Jay Jay Okocha, who is the starlet’s uncle, have gone on record to say they want him to wear the green with pride.

Not that Iwobi isn’t happy to comply. Having represented England at U16, U17 and U18, he was completely overlooked at U19 level. This apparent snub cannot have helped England to hold on to him and may yet be a move his adopted country have cause to lament.