Although Emile Smith-Rowe will have been inevitably disappointed to have only been named amongst the substitutes ahead of Arsenal’s third-round FA Cup clash with Newcastle, the versatile 20-year old proved to be the Gunners’ match-winner and firmly stated his case to become a regular starter in the top flight.
Outside of the Europa League, the attacking midfielder had barely featured in 2020; however, Mikel Arteta has given him the chance to impress in recent weeks, and this has coincided with a significant upturn in form. The North London outfit have endured a poor start to the season, and as a result, they have drifted out to 5/1 in the latest Premier League betting odds; however, they picked up three consecutive victories across the festive period and now finally appear to have turned a corner.
Smith-Rowe’s performance against the Magpies will surely have strengthened his position, and although reinforcements are expected to arrive during the January transfer window, the former Huddersfield loanee will be hoping that he’s done enough to put himself firmly in the picture. Despite having clocked up just 231 top-flight minutes this season, he’s already claimed two assists and stole the show against Chelsea on Boxing Day.
The majority of Arsenal’s squad have underperformed this season, with the likes of Willian and Nicolas Pepe having been subject to criticism for their laboured displays. However, Smith-Rowe’s energy and determination have delighted supporters, and with fellow academy graduate Bukayo Saka having also impressed in recent weeks, Arteta’s faith in home-grown talent finally appears to be paying dividends. Although Joe Willock has not been afforded the same opportunities so far, the midfielder’s dynamic displays in the Europa League could see him follow in their footsteps during the second half of the season.
Smith-Rowe plays between the lines and is able to regularly find space in the opposition’s half. His movement and ability to give his marker the slip make him incredibly tough to play against, and his presence has helped give Arsenal an edge in the final third. Prior to their Boxing Day success at the Emirates, the Gunners had notched just 12 times in the top flight; however, with eight goals plundered in their last three outings, Arteta finally appears to have found a workable solution to his side’s attacking woes.
Although he is yet to get on the score-sheet himself, his performances have seemingly helped to reinvigorate striker Alexandre Lacazette. The playmaker’s precision and ability to link up with teammates has enabled the Frenchman to rediscover his shooting boots, and he has found the back of the net in each of Smith-Rowe’s three Premier League appearances so far.
It is still incredibly early days, and although he has received rave reviews on social media, the young attacking midfielder must continue to work hard in order to continue his progress this season. Arsenal have been linked with a number of midfielders, and although the squad is likely to be bolstered in coming weeks, Smith-Rowe’s all-action performances should see him continue his tenure in the starting XI. He has given the club an extra edge in the final third, and it appears as though Arteta may have stumbled upon a potential solution to his side’s profligacy in front of goal.