In north London, the perennial issue of woeful defending has plagued the Emirates Stadium for longer than most would care to remember. The conversation tends to read: ‘They’re so good going forward, but my oh my, they’re woeful at defending’. In truth, it’s generally a tad more expletive than that.
Intriguing, now, that while those concerns remain prevalent, there has been a switch in focus towards the other end of the pitch. The emergence of a creative dearth in Arsenal’s squad has bubbled to the surface, with any number of possibilities tipped to plug the hole. But, maybe, the solution is closer to home than we think. Enter Emile Smith Rowe.
No, sorry, it’s not Mesut Özil.
The most recent updates from The Daily Mail state that Mikel Arteta has blocked approaches from the United Kingdom and abroad for Smith Rowe.
Two six-month loan spells in the last two seasons bore varying degrees of success for the youngster; a spell with RB Leipzig was less than fruitful due to his injury problems, while a stint with Huddersfield was a major turning point, helping them avoid relegation to the third tier.
We mustn’t get too carried away without ourselves, however. With extensive work rumbling away behind the scenes to bolster the club’s creative ranks, it’s unlikely that Smith Rowe will suddenly be catapulted into the first team frame for the 2020/21 season. Well, at least not in the Premier League, that is.
A lack of depth in that department last season saw a variety of players take up the mantle outside of the top flight, be it Özil, Joe Willock, Dani Ceballos or anyone willing to give it a crack. In fact, Smith Rowe flirted with the attacking midfield slot on occasion in the Europa League.
Mikel Arteta Has High Aspirations for Emile Smith Rowe
As discussions and scouting are underway to address the role, Arteta’s decision to keep hold of the 20-year-old suggests his approach to cup competitions and in Europe is set in stone. It does appear as if Smith Rowe will be a more regular inclusion in the side. He’s clearly done enough to warrant the manager’s faith.
“He’s a player with very specific qualities to play in those pockets in that position as an attacking midfielder,” Arteta told Sky Sports in January. “I’m excited to work with him. I have been talking with him and I have followed him during his spell on loan.
“I think he’s someone who can be pretty impressive. I’m pleased by what I’ve seen from him. He needed that exposure and he looks more mature now. I think he will be in a much better place when he comes back in pre-season.”
Undoubtedly, he caught the eye of former Terriers boss Danny Cowley too, featuring in some capacity in every Championship fixture since his Huddersfield debut back in mid-January. There were some alluring performances from his time in Yorkshire, none more so than his brief match-winning cameo against West Brom on the penultimate game of the season. There is coming up clutch, then there is that.
Of course, the Premier League is a different kettle of fish. Smith Rowe will be under no illusion that he’ll become an immediate inductee into the starting lineup for league matches, but it’s been made clear that conversations have been held between him and the Spaniard that indicate more regular outings next season.
In terms of what he can bring to the table, there are dashes of Jack Wilshere mixed in with sprinklings of Tomas Rosicky. Those signature drops of the shoulder and short bursts of speed to evade his marker are akin to those Wilshere was synonymous with, while his ability to control the ball and link up play while in full sprint hark back to the days of The Little Mozart.
Featuring in a variety of slots across the forward line, he’s willing to sacrifice his own promising positions to bring others into play, be it dummy runs or bursts down the channels. Off the ball intelligence is fundamental to Arteta’s philosophy. Boasting such mental industry and tactical astuteness, you can almost hear the Spaniard ticking off that box on his checklist.
Far from the polished article, Smith Rowe, as with all other academy stars, will blossom with each minute on the pitch he’s presented with. Granted, Arsenal are not in the elite European competition, but frequent dabbles in the Europa League can’t be scoffed at in terms of providing valuable experience. Nor too can cup competitions. Finding the back of the net or offering a positive influence in such fixtures can do wonders for a player’s confidence. Take Gabriel Martinelli, for example.
Going off of the murmurs we’re hearing of late, Arsenal are hell-bent on seeking reinforcements in this area of the pitch, just as a swathe of squad players will be shifted on. Just because summer additions are being touted, though, doesn’t mean they will necessarily come off. For that reason, Smith Rowe may even be viewed as a contingency plan if Edu and co miss out on targets. We all know finances could prove a major stumbling block.
Thus, a player dedicated to the cause – Arteta is rather fond of that – who knows the club inside out, that can be promoted from within and is not without talent of his own is, at the very least, an amicable backup heading into next season.