Graduating from Hale End, Emile Smith Rowe is yet another exciting prospect who has come through the ranks. Despite the 20-year-old statistically not excelling during his time for the U23’s, his qualities quickly became apparent. Technical prowess, ability to operate in tight spaces, intricate passes and very tidy in possession. It was always a case of when he would break into the first team rather than if.
With Emery succeeding Le Professeur back in 2018, the Spaniard gave the 17-year-old a chance to impress during the club’s pre-season tour in Singapore. His most notable contribution was a wonder strike against Simeone’s men, in front of a packed crowd. Strong performances in friendlies earned him first-team action in the Europa League and EFL Cup. Despite a significant step up in development, the talented teen at the time didn’t shy away from the occasion, impressing in games against Vorskla, Quarabag and Blackpool and managed a total of 3 goals in 6 games. In order for his development to continue, the English midfielder was loaned out to RB Leipzig, for the second half of the season. Unfortunately, injuries prevented him from flourishing in Germany.
A similar pattern in the handling of Smith Rowe followed in the 2019/20 campaign. Opportunities were given in low-risk cup games, but significant contributions came on loan for a struggling Huddersfield town, with the 20-year-old playing a key role in retaining the club’s championship status. As we now are almost midway through the season, it’s evident that Smith Rowe looks a far more refined player, and has already shown to be an integral cog within the team.
Smith Rowe’s technical ability and capability in weaving away from tight spaces with his quick feet are standout attributes. These qualities allow the 20-year-old to excel in kickstarting attacks and transitioning his team forward.
Tailored to playing centrally, Emile is a smooth operator in between the lines. The Croydon De Bruyne’s ability to find space, drag players out of position and open up passing lanes is effective. His awareness and desire to impact the game inside the box is a refreshing trait.
Collecting the ball on the half-turn, Smith Rowe is great at occupying players, evading pressure in tight spaces and accurately switching the play to initiate an attack from a different channel. His passing range is an effective attribute he possesses.
The phrase ‘pass and move’ is perfect to describe Smith Rowe’s style of play. The Hale End Graduate times his passes well, scans his surroundings quickly and is brilliant at finding vacated space. His presence allows for rotations, fluid build-up play and overloads, key components for galvanising creativity.
Anticipation and defensive awareness, Smith Rowe is always eager/intent in cutting out passing lanes, retaining possession, and trying to capitalise on turnovers. With the game moving away from luxury players, ESR is definitely a creative player suited to the modern game.
His one start and two cameo performances in the Europa League gave Gooners a taste of what was lacking in the first team. Movement in between the lines, third man runs, a midfield link and productivity in the final third. Coming off the bench in Norway, Smith Rowe delivered an instant impact, receiving the ball in space before picking out Balogun. And against Dundalk, he netted in his first of the season, with a goal reminiscent to one Aaron Ramsey is known for, dynamic runs beyond opposition backlines.
The hybrid 343 system predominantly utilised in the Premier League has proved to give Arsenal solidity out of possession but has limited them in an attacking sense. Distances between the midfield & attack are significant, starving the front three of clear cut opportunities. Against Chelsea, Arteta resorted back to old principles with a 4-2-3-1 and 2-3-5 in possession, with Smith Rowe given his first start in the Premier League, and an opportunity to showcase his talent. Huge faith placed on his shoulders but the talented midfielder didn’t disappoint. Instructed to play as 10 and drift in between the lines, the 20-year-old showed the importance of having someone who can operate in space and be a link. His efforts were rewarded with an assist.
Since then, he has continued to shine, consistently influencing proceedings. The incisive and simple off the ball movements installed within his game has been a difference-maker, with his contributions against West Brom and Newcastle showing this.
Statistically, Smith Rowe has registered 7 G/A in just 522 minutes of football, demonstrating consistent levels of productivity. Despite a small sample size, the numbers are encouraging.
Arteta has deployed him on the left of a front three in the Europa League when the Gunners have opted for the hybrid 343 system. But naturally, the youngster likes to drifts into the half-spaces and in central areas. Clearly, Smith Rowe is tailored to a central role as a 10 because of his ability in finding pockets of space, playing intricate passes and providing creativity.
By no means is he the finished article, and certainly still needs to develop aspects in his game both in and out of possession. Standing at only 20 years of age, with limited experience at the top level, Arsenal’s No.32 will go through fluctuations in form and levels of performance. What’s worrying is that right now, he is arguably in Arsenal’s top three of most important players because of the lack of options who can play a similar role within the squad. And this is why it’s imperative that the Gunners bring in a creative midfielder (loan or permanent deal) to ease the burden that’s currently placed on his shoulders. Whether they will or not, is a question that still needs answering.
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23 years of age, 23 years as a Gooner. Arsenal runs through my veins and it pains me to see the current position and state of the club. Reading many football articles over the years has inspired me to write blogs containing Arsenal analysis. I’ve always wanted my fellow Gooners to be aware of my thoughts and opinions of ‘The Arsenal’ and thanks to Dave and Paul, I now have a platform which makes this possible.