Analysing Emile Smith Rowe’s 27 minutes against
Crystal Palace -  A potential starter
against Nottingham Forest
Emile Smith Rowe comes on as a substitute for Kai Havertz of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Brighton & Hove Albion at Emirates Stadium on December 17, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Let’s flashback to December 2021. Emile Smith Rowe has just scored his eighth Premier League goal of the season  in just 17 games, making it ten league goal contributions for the season. His back, emboldened with the iconic number 10. His new number had been accompanied with a brand new contract that would see him contracted to the club he supported as a boy, Arsenal, until 2026.

In 2024, Smith Rowe finds himself on the periphery of the team, aiming to make a new charge to break back into the same team he helped drag out of a torrid spell at the back end of 2020.  The years following have unfortunately brought injury after injury. The Englishman made just 12 league appearances in the 22/23 season, having to undergo groin surgery early on. A knee injury also kept him out for over a month this season.

The rapid progress of club captain Martin Ødegaard hasn’t helped the Hale End graduate's case either. The Norwegian has essentially locked down his place in the attacking midfield position Smith Rowe burst onto the scene in.

However, now presents perhaps the greatest opportunity for Smith Rowe to stake a claim for his place back in the starting eleven. With Kai Havertz struggling for consistency in the left-eight position Granit Xhaka performed so well last season, there is an opening for an alternative. According to manager Mikel Arteta, Smith Rowe is excelling in training and appears to be approaching the physical levels Arsenal fans were accustomed to before his injury issues.

Against Crystal Palace, Arteta gave the Englishman his greatest chance in a long time. A 27 minute cameo in which it’s fair to say Smith Rowe impressed. Displaying a new dynamic to the left-eight position, the midfielder looked sharp.

 

69’  Smith Rowe enters the pitch

The 23-year-old is subbed on with the game relatively settled for Arsenal, who are 3-0 up. He replaces Kai Havertz, who has been playing the left-eight position.

71’

The midfielder’s first action comes in the centre of the pitch, as he gets straight into the action by combining with Gabriel Martinelli to win the ball back and set Arsenal back on the attack.

75’

Smith Rowe this time, pops up in that left channel we have become accustomed to Arteta’s left-eight occupying.  He strolls into space on the edge of the box and plays a one-two with Gabriel Jesus to free the Brazilian into space in the box. Jesus attempts to return the favour, but the move breaks down.

75’

Just 30 seconds later, Smith Rowe is presented with a real chance to get on the score sheet. He shows a great burst of pace, much like he showed when he first broke onto the scene, to catch up with a developing counter-attack. He is denied the chance to shoot when Jesus’ pass is slightly overhit.

Smith Rowe drives towards the box in an attempt to get off a shot. | Photo: <strong><a  data-cke-saved-href='https://www.vavel.com/en/football/2024/01/05/arsenal/1167651-mikel-arteta-says-there-is-a-possibility-arsenal-wont-make-any-signings-in-january.html' href='https://www.vavel.com/en/football/2024/01/05/arsenal/1167651-mikel-arteta-says-there-is-a-possibility-arsenal-wont-make-any-signings-in-january.html'>Premier League</a></strong> via TNT Sports
Smith Rowe drives towards the box in an attempt to get off a shot. | Photo: Premier League via TNT Sports

In the left-eight position this season, Havertz has largely stuck to the left side of the pitch. Interestingly, Smith Rowe’s positioning appears to be fluid in this cameo. He is often in a more central position behind the striker, and even pops up on the right on an occasion.

This could potentially serve as an advantage for Martinelli, who is allowed more space due to the need for an opposing midfielder to follow Smith Rowe. This perhaps is shown by the space Martinelli is afforded for his two late goals, but the tired Palace defence is likely more to blame in this case.

83’

Smith Rowe does find himself in the left channel in this instance, picking up the ball around the halfway line and driving forward, before cutting inside and offloading to Odegaard.

84’

The Englishman picks up the ball and once again drives forward and offloads. However, this time he picks up the ball deep inside Arsenal territory. It is a simple action to find space to assist in build-up but it is key in allowing Jorginho to play a first time pass with a defender closing him down.

86’

Here we see a throwback to the type of space Smith Rowe would find when he first broke into the team. He drops off his midfield marker and finds space in the centre between the Palace midfield and defence.

Found by Odegaard, he quickly turns and drives towards the box before finding Martinelli, who, accompanied by Oleksandr Zinchenko, creates an overload. The Ukrainian attempts to find Smith Rowe, who has continued his run, but the pass is cut out.

Smith Rowe finds space in the midfield. | Photo: <strong><a  data-cke-saved-href='https://www.vavel.com/en/football/2024/01/05/arsenal/1167651-mikel-arteta-says-there-is-a-possibility-arsenal-wont-make-any-signings-in-january.html' href='https://www.vavel.com/en/football/2024/01/05/arsenal/1167651-mikel-arteta-says-there-is-a-possibility-arsenal-wont-make-any-signings-in-january.html'>Premier League</a></strong> via TNT Sports
Smith Rowe finds space in the midfield. | Photo: Premier League via TNT Sports

This is something Arsenal have perhaps lacked this season. Havertz tends to stick closer to the box,  meaning the Gunners are often forced to find an alternative route to Martinelli. By the time the ball gets to the Brazilian, he is usually double marked.

87’

Once again, Smith Rowe performs his basic left-eight role perfectly. He makes a clever run between the full-back, who is concerned with Martinelli outside of him, and the central defender, who must now follow the midfielder.

Smith Rowe makes a run in the left channel. | Photo: Premier League via TNT Sports
Smith Rowe makes a run in the left channel. | Photo: Premier League via TNT Sports

While his pass is cut out, he keeps the ball and recycles it, in what was his last significant moment in the game.

An alternative for Arsenal

Smith Rowe didn’t do anything hugely significant in this cameo, but the 23-year-old has certainly put himself in the conversation for a place in the starting eleven.  

The midfielder offers something different to Kai Havertz, in his fluid movement and his ability to move the ball quicker. There has frequently been too much rigidity to Arsenal’s play this season, and a dynamic runner in midfield may be the solution Arteta has been looking for.

Arsenal will play away at Nottingham Forest on Tuesday. It remains to be seen whether Smith Rowe has earnt himself a spot in the starting eleven. However, with reports emerging of the Hale Ender’s desire to play himself back into the picture under Arteta following West Ham’s loan bid, this cameo has not hurt his chances.

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