Normally, promising young Arsenal attackers get overrated to high heaven after breaking into one of former (wow, still can’t believe he’s gone) Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger’s famously thin squads, often on account of an injury to one of Wenger’s famously fragile starters, and looking good for a couple of weeks in Wenger’s famously attacker-friendly system. Iwobi seems to be the exception. He tends to elicit more hatred, or at least overly critical frustration, than many a homegrown Gunner youngster who came before him—which is pretty crazy, because Iwobi is awesome.


Iwobi’s skills aren’t always the super flashy kind that call attention to themselves, though he is a strong and fast player with great dribbling and a clean shot who can sprint down the touchline, make a defender look stupid with a dribble move, and then knock the ball into the top corner. The attributes that make Iwobi so impressive and consistent are more subtle. The 22-year-old is a genius in the final third. He’s phenomenal at keeping possession in the tightest of spaces, dragging the ball between his feet and sashaying through defenders rather than blowing by them. His decision-making is superb; he always knows when to try to squeeze the ball through the defense to a teammate in the penalty area with a delicate little pass or when to send the ball back to a player in a safer position in order to wait for the fatal crack in the defense to reveal itself. Iwobi’s compensatory movement, too, is already great at such a young age. He’s always naturally drifting around the pitch in response to where his teammates are, calculating immediately where best to position himself in order to maximize his team’s chances of scoring.

All the physical and technical skills Iwobi is blessed with pale in comparison to those mental ones, and it’s his head that should ensure that he doesn’t become the next Arsenal prospect to fizzle out. His breakout 2016-17 season with the club put him on the map, while a seemingly less impressive season this past year tampered the buzz around him somewhat. The woes of this past season’s Arsenal campaign shouldn’t put too much of a damper on the excitement around Iwobi, not when he has clearly improved in key ways despite the turmoil around him, and his importance in the Nigeria team should prove once again why so many have high hopes for the kid. Nothing like a World Cup to announce yourself to the world.


Every other Nigeria player dressed in their bomb-ass kits

Have you seen these Nigeria kits? They’re flames, right? Seriously, you’ll want to watch all the Nigeria players all the time, no matter if they’re in their flashy home jerseys—


—their more subdued but still fresh away ones—


—or their warmups:


If you’re looking for some soccer apparel to cop this summer, we definitely recommend something from the Nigeria collection. Though if you’re looking for something that doesn’t have anything to do with the World Cup, try the U.S. jerseys.

How They Play

The first thing you want to do at an international tournament to make sure you’re hard to beat. Nigeria have that covered with a respectable defense and a tough-as-nails midfield. Leicester’s Wilfried Ndidi is one of the best defensive mids in England, Ogenyi Onazi is solid, and when Mikel John Obi is your central creator, you’ve got a midfield that no one is going to just run through. Even Argentina should find it hard to crack the Nigeria defense.


After you’ve made sure you can keep goals out, the second thing you need is the ability to score some goals. Mikel will be the main guy linking the back half of Nigeria’s team to the advanced players. In him, Iwobi, and Moses, the Super Eagles have loads of creativity. Nigeria’s offensive strategy is primarily counterattack-based, which capitalizes on the speed and power of their strikers and wingers. And in a game like the one against Iceland, where Nigeria will be confronted with a deep defense that doesn’t offer much space to break into, they have the passing of Mikel and especially Iwobi to wrench through the obstructions.

Once Nigeria do get the ball into the final third, they have plenty of finishing ability. In Odion Ighalo, Kelechi Iheanacho, and Ahmed Musa, Nigeria have three guys adept at putting the ball into the back of the net, both from central areas with the former two players and from out wide with Musa. Because they’ll likely start in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Nigeria will have multiple potentially game-changing players waiting on the bench to do damage should they find themselves pressing for a goal. The competition in Group D is tough as hell, so it’ll take work for Nigeria to fight their way into the Round of 16. Should they get there, though—and they absolutely could—Nigeria should be suitably prepared to maybe make a push into the next round or two. It’s not likely, but all the raw materials for a memorably deep World Cup run are all there. The rest is up to them.


Group D Fixtures

All times Eastern

June 16, 3 p.m.: Croatia vs. Nigeria at Kaliningrad Stadium

June 22, 11 a.m.: Nigeria vs. Iceland at Volgograd Arena

June 26, 2 p.m.: Nigeria vs. Argentina at Saint Petersburg Stadium