How Emile Smith Rowe has solved Arsenal's creative woes
Emile Smith Rowe in action at a snowy Hawthorns (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane via Getty Images)

Two weeks ago, there was talk of Arsenal being in a relegation battle and Mikel Arteta being sacked.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and three wins in three games have the Gunners sitting comfortably in mid-table and looking up towards the Champions League rather than the Championship.

A big reason for this transformation, the introduction of Emile Smith-Rowe into the starting eleven.

During Arsenal's terrible run before Christmas the criticism every week was the lack of creativity in the side and a failure to make any clear cut chances for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alex Lacazette.

The answer seemed to be, try and sign either Houssem Auoar from Lyon or  Dominik Szoboszlai from RB Salzburg, or register Mesut Ozil in the 25 man Premier League squad.

The latter didn't seem an option for reasons unknown but seem to be off the pitch. Auoar was too expensive for Arsenal's limited budget and Szoboszlai signed for RB Leipzig, leaving Arsenal's creative options looking very bleak.

The final choice seemed to be giving Emile Smith Rowe a run of games in the first team.

How he earnt his chance

It was refreshing against Chelsea on Boxing Day to see a much changed, young team. The experienced players had been really poor and the opinion was that the players who had not been involved as much couldn't do any worse than the regular side.

It also lifted the pressure off Arteta. He had named a different side that was young so a defeat would have been easier to take and almost expected. This gave the players on the day a freedom to just go out and enjoy playing for Arsenal against one of the clubs' biggest rivals.

Not many people would have predicted the outcome of the game or the performance put in by this much changed side and although it was a brilliant team performance the standout players were the young attacking midfield consisting of Bukayo Saka on the right, Gabriel Martinelli on the left and Smith-Rowe in the centre.

Martinelli brought energy which had been desperately missing while he was out with a knee injury, Saka scored and got an assist and Smith Rowe was fouled leading to Granit Xhaka's booming free kick into the top corner.

The confidence was back for Arsenal and although they didn't play as well against Brighton in the next game they were able to win 1-0 with the young, front three playing a key part again.

Smith Rowe assisted Saka against West Brom (Photo by David Price via Getty Images)
Smith Rowe assisted Saka against West Brom (Photo by David Price via Getty Images)

And most recently against West Brom at the Hawthorns it was the best performance so far. On a snowy evening against a Sam Allardyce team, it didn't look like a game Arsenal would enjoy but they put in an emphatic performance, winning 4-0 and once again the youngsters contributing heavily.

While the talents of Saka and Martinelli have been known for over a year, Smith-Rowe has been the next youngster to take his chance and force Arteta to put him in his starting eleven.

 

What has been impressive?

Smith Rowe has always been an immensely talented player and one who had the ability to break into the first team. Like all good players, he controls the ball with his back foot, allowing him to immediately move forward.

His decision making is very impressive for someone so young and he can always identify whether to release the ball or drive into space. There have been some notable examples of this already.

Against Chelsea he saw space in front of him and drove forward with the ball, winning the free kick the lead to Xhaka's goal. Against West Brom he was aware he was under pressure so played the ball behind himself to Saka, kept moving and assisted Saka in a lovely team move.

His work rate is also superb and not only is he prepared to track back and defend when Arsenal don't have the ball he drifts from his central position, picking the ball out wide at times or dropping deeper in an attempt to create space for himself.

This is a nightmare to defend against and as a defender you can be dragged out of position creating space for others, or hope someone else picks him up allowing Smith Rowe the space he wants. 

His performances and style of play so far have been said to be similar to Jack Grealish with his ability to drive forward and win fouls. in the academy he was known as the 'Croydon KDB' and his fellow youngsters have been drawing these comparisons themselves on social media. 

What Next?

Smith-Rowe has not only established himself in the side, he has helped completely change the mood at the club and potentially saved Arteta's job. While Arsenal are still said to be looking at bringing in a creative midfielder Smith Rowe's impact has made this much less of a priority and Arsenal could bring in a more forward thinking midfielder to support Thomas Partey rather than a full out attacking midfielder. 

It is important Arsenal remember Smith-Rowe is still young, won't influence all games as much as he has done so far and not over play him, something Arsenal have been guilty of doing in the past with Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere.

There also cannot be too much pressure on Smith-Rowe or the other youngsters every week and there is still a responsibility on the senior players to help them out.

Lacazette has done this brilliantly so far, matching the work rate and scoring goals. Aubameyang is currently struggling for confidence but when he starts scoring again this makes Arsenal's attack look very dangerous.

Smith-Rowe and the other youngsters almost perfectly represent Arsenal as a whole at the minute.

It is a long way from where the club needs to be, but it is important to remain patient with these extremely talented youngsters Arsenal have at their disposal.

It is always important not to put too much pressure on these young players and just enjoy it when things are going well. But in Smith-Rowe Arsenal have themselves an extremely talented youngster and he has made an excellent start to his career.

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