20-year-old Emile Smith Rowe was the orchestrator of a brilliant attacking display from Arsenal at The Hawthorns. Operating as an all-action playmaker, he wrought havoc upon West Brom’s defense all evening. Aspects of his performances against both Chelsea and Brighton were similarly impressive.
To those who have been watching Smith Rowe for a long time, his seamless adaptation to first-team football is hardly surprising. As Steve Cowley, Smith Rowe’s manager at Huddersfield recounted, “No matter how the game [was] going, when he came on, he would always make the game better.”
At the conclusion of his interview with The Athletic’s James McNicholas, Cowley insisted that “Technically, [Smith Rowe] is Premier League standard.” In the last three games, Smith Rowe has more than held his weight. At times while watching him it’s hard to believe Smith Rowe has made just five Premier League appearances.
Also speaking to McNicholas, Smith Rowe’s England under-17s manager Steve Cooper held the man dubbed as the ‘Croyden Kevin De Bruyne’ in high regard. Cooper, now manager of Swansea City, “knew this kid [Smith Rowe] should be starting” despite already having the likes of Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden and Callum Hudson-Odoi available to him. Cooper, a youth football expert, held Smith Rowe in the same regard as a group of now-superstars.
However, Smith Rowe’s rise to Arsenal’s first team has been quite incomparable to that of his fellow young colleagues. Of course, Gabriel Martinelli has spent the majority of his short career in Brazil while Bukayo Saka unconventionally jumped directly from the Arsenal academy to the first-team. A testament to the latter’s ability.
Smith Rowe, on the other hand, has spent a considerable portion of his senior career away from Arsenal. Firstly, the young playmaker experienced an injury-ravaged spell in Germany at RB Leipzig in the second half of the 18/19 season. Despite making just three Bundesliga appearances, Leipzig wanted to bring in Smith Rowe permanently following the loan’s expiration. Leipzig’s then-manager Ralf Rangnick was sufficiently impressed.
As we know, Arsenal refused. Instead, Smith Rowe stayed at Arsenal for the first-half of the 19/20 campaign, featuring just twice, and moved to Huddersfield for the second-half. Fans of the Terrires quickly recognised that they had a big talent on their hands.
In his short spell in England’s second tier, he grabbed 2 goals and 2 assists to help Huddersfield avoid consecutive relegations. His performance levels were of far higher a standard than the numbers suggest. After fans demanded Smith Rowe be given more opportunities, manager Danny Cowley admitted “I actually boo myself when I take him off.” He was a live-wire for Huddersfield.
As such, Smith Rowe has had to remain patient for a chance at Arsenal. Despite arguably having similar potential to both Martinelli and Saka, he hasn’t had the same opportunities in the first team. The key for Arsenal’s number 32 was to take his opportunity when it arose.
Club insiders knew Smith Rowe’s chance would come. Many a journalist has commented on Mikel Arteta’s affection for Smith Rowe and Arteta himself confirmed he was “excited” to work with the Englishman following his return from Huddersfield. His introduction into the first-team fold was an inevitability.
Thankfully, the youngster has taken his opportunity with both hands. He was quiet at times against Chelsea and Brighton, but his suitability to the number 10 role was clear for all to see. In those games, Smith Rowe managed to grab an assist and delivered three key passes. He proved to be an important link-man in Arsenal’s offensive game. A bright start to first-team life.
The 20-year-old, however, undoubtedly had his best game in an Arsenal so far at the Hawthorns on Saturday. 10 pressing actions. 1 tackle. 35 ball carries. 2 key passes. 0.2 xG. 0.8 xA. 1 assist. Imperious from the young play-maker.
Of course, Smith Rowe has aspects of his games which need refining. However, he must be praised for his role in transforming the fortunes of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal. If Smith Rowe’s start to first-team life is a sign of things to come, Arsenal fans have every right to be excited. Emile Smith Rowe, remember the name.
All statistics courtesy of FBref.com. Brilliant cover edit designed by @WalmsDesigns on Twtitter.