Where Does Smith-Rowe Fit in this Current Arsenal Team?
Emile Smith-Rowe is set to take some time off following the triumphant campaign with the England Under-21s this summer.
Smith-Rowe was on the bench for England Under-21s opening group stage fixture against Czech Republic, came on as a substitute and scored the goal that put the game beyond doubt in the 94th minute. Smith-Rowe was rewarded for his goalscoring heroics with a start against Israel Under-21s, scoring a very beautiful goal after some intricate passing play, before he was subbed off for Harvey Elliot. With England sealing qualification after two games, the final group stage fixture against Germany Under-21s was a dead-rubber match, but Smith-Rowe came on as a substitute for Jacob Ramsey, as England Under-21s ran out as comfortable 2-0 earning a place in the quarterfinals.
With the Euro Under-21s reaching the business end, England Under-21s locked horns with Portugal Under-21s that saw Smith-Rowe fight it out against his teammate, Nuno Taveres. Fabio Vieira would have featured in the tournament as well, but he was ruled out through injury. Smith-Rowe had to make do with a place on the bench and came on as a sub for Jacob Ramsey in the 59th minute, helping England Under-21s to a narrow 1-0 win over Portugal Under-21s that sent them to the last four. The semifinals saw England Under-21s face off against Israel Under-21s, a team they beat in the group stages. Smith-Rowe started from the left flank and played for 74 minutes before leaving the pitch for Elliot, as England Under-21s ran out as 3-0 winners, leading to a final showdown against Spain Under-21s. Curtis Jones scored what proved to be the winner as Abel Ruiz missed the penalty right at the death (99th minute) that would have sent the game to extra time, but Burnley’s new recruit from Manchester City, James Trafford, made a great save, securing his sixth clean sheet of the tournament, as England Under-21s were the Euro Under-21s champions without conceding a goal, which is pretty impressive.
Arsenal removed their footballing cobwebs by playing a closed door friendly in London Colney against Watford, as some of the club’s established stars mixed it up with the yoot to harsh out a 1-1 draw. From the highlights I watched, a defensive error (yes, they haven’t gone away) allowed Watford’s Ismael Kone to open the scoring, while Marquinhos equalized off a rebound after Amario Cozier-Duberry’s attempt on goal was parried by the Watford goalie to the Brazilian’s path.
It was good to see the likes of Ben White, Gabriel, Rob Holding, Cedric, Leandro Trossard, Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah and captain of the day, Gabriel Jesus in action, and I’m sure the rest of the gang will be itching to return as the team flies to Germany to take on Nuremberg to kick the preseason campaign for the 2023/24 season.
Smith-Rowe might still be on holidays and may not be part of the squad travelling to Germany, but he would be hoping to be part of the team taking the MLS Tour with games against the MLS All-Stars and Manchester United, before returning to London to take on AS Monaco in the Emirates Cup and Manchester City in the traditional curtain raiser for the campaign known as the FA Community Shield.
So where does Smith-Rowe fit in this current Arsenal team?
Smith-Rowe had his breakthrough campaign for Arsenal two seasons ago, where he scored 11 goals in 37 games for the club, with 10 of them in the Premier League. With Gabriel Martinelli suffering a knee injury, Smith-Rowe manned the left flank and always cut in with Kieran Tierney providing width from the byline. This style of play allowed Smith-Rowe hug the ball a lot, making a lot of layoffs and short passes before arriving in the box to do the business like Aaron Ramsey in the yesteryear. He really didn’t have any much competition with Martinelli out injured, but he made the best of that opportunity, endearing himself to the Arsenal faithful.
Last season, however, didn’t turn out well for Smith-Rowe. He had carried a groin injury for quite some time, using injections and drugs not to feel it, but in the game against Manchester United in Old Trafford, Smith-Rowe, who came on as a sub, attempted to fire a shot and tore something in his groin. Further medical evaluation was done and Smith-Rowe had to go under the knife to mitigate the issue once and for all. The injury recovery and rehabilitation kept Smith-Rowe out of the team till the new year.
Following the substitute appearance in his comeback from injury against Oxford United in January 2023, Smith-Rowe didn’t feature in the first team till March, playing a meager eight minutes against Everton. In the very next game against Bournemouth, Smith-Rowe came on as a sub for the injured Leandro Trossard, played 47 minutes and was substituted for the last-gasp goalscoring hero, Reiss Nelson. In the next 12 games in the season, Smith-Rowe didn’t come off the bench seven times, and in the five times he managed to feature, he only made substitute appearances – seven minutes against Crystal Palace, five minutes against Leeds, 19 minutes against Manchester City, 13 minutes against Brighton and 15 minutes in the season ending clash against Wolves.
Despite featuring sparingly for the entirety of the campaign, Arsenal made it clear that Smith-Rowe is not for sale, and the Arsenal midfielder also stated that he intends to fight for his place in the team,
“I just want to be on the pitch. This was the hardest season of my career.
“It was tough, but we were in a title race and I understand the manager isn’t going to change the team if we’re winning every game”.
“I just tried to stay positive and train as well as I could. The other players and Mikel [Arteta] were great with me, kept me feeling connected. But it was tough, a long season. I won’t lie.”
With Gabriel Martinelli cementing his place as the club’s primary left winger, Smith-Rowe will have to contend with Leandro Trossard for a spot on that flank he’s most comfortable with. There have been some whispers that he would be re-trained as a left No. 8 but with the arrivals of Kai Havertz and Declan Rice, I don’t think he has a viable option in that position. He can potentially play in Martin Odegaard’s No. 10 position that can see him work closely with Bukayo Saka and Ben White / Jurrien Timber, but he’s versatile enough to tactically adjust himself to whatever Mikel Arteta plans for him to do on the pitch.
With Arsenal competing on several fronts, I would expect Smith-Rowe to feature heavily this season, but one can only hope that he stays fit to be available for selection.
Follow Gooner Daily on Twitter @goonerdaily.
Visit Gooner Daily’s Facebook page.
Click on the “Follow button” to join Gooner Daily’s Mailing List