Emile Smith Rowe played another 60 minutes for the u23s on Friday, and he showed why he’s too good for youth football.
I want to start out by addressing a common misconception at the moment. Emile Smith Rowe is not injured, and that’s not why he isn’t in the first team. He hasn’t had a setback, he’s not building his fitness, he’s not lacking match sharpness.
All of those things have been true at times over the course of the year. Right now, however, the 19-year-old is fit. He returned to the u23s at the start of November and he’s completed multiple matches since then.
Starting in three wins against Tottenham Hotspur (3-1), Villarreal (3-0) and Blackburn Rovers (3-1), Smith Rowe has starred on each occasion.
Steve Bould’s Arsenal side were on the back of a five-game run without a win when the midfielder first returned to the side against Spurs.
Smith Rowe was part of the move of that match assisting Arsenal’s second goal, and he made them a threat on the counter-attack all night. He then scored one of his own against Villarreal, finishing a nicely disguised pass from Nathan Tormey.
The first half against Blackburn Rovers was arguably his best yet. The young playmaker assisted two of the goals to have his team leading 3-0 at half-time, and Blackburn could do nothing to contain his creativity and movement.
Steve Bould took the teenager off with the game done and dusted and 30 minutes to go. It’s possible that was with the first-team trip to West Ham United in mind.
No time like the present
With Dani Ceballos injured, Mesut Özil has to start every single game at the moment. The fans wanted the German in the team, without a doubt. But they didn’t want him running himself into the ground so he can’t be useful.
Joe Willock shouldn’t be considered as an alternative, as he’s better playing a deeper role. His driving runs and long passes aren’t nearly as useful in tight spaces in the final third. His inconsistent short passing can be more of a problem in those areas too.
One of Willock’s best attributes is the timing of his late runs, which is also nullified by starting him further up the pitch.
Meanwhile, Smith Rowe loves being in the final third. He’s excellent in the transition, making runs into the channels or finding teammates with clever passing on the turn. He can dribble, he can finish, he has a final ball, he presses well.
The youngster is in excellent form for the u23s and he hasn’t even had a look in for the senior side since Vitoria in October. The last game Arsenal won. Even then, he was playing out of position on the left.
This is the ideal time to give him a chance. The team need a player like him, he’s in good form, he’s fit, and honestly, things couldn’t get much worse for the senior side.
The one downside of bringing Smith Rowe in now is that it opens him up to criticism from a frustrated fanbase.
That’s certainly a factor that should be considered, but not one worth leaving him out completely over. He should at least make the squad for our final Europa League group stage clash.