When fit and healthy, Emile Smith Rowe can add qualities severely lacking in the Arsenal midfield.
Before Bukayo Saka soaked up the plaudits, Emile Smith Rowe was the youth product on the lips of every Arsenal fan. The teenager won over hearts with his sophisticated blend of technical prowess, ingenuity, and drive. Blessed with cat-like agility, a decent turn of pace, and a sharp footballing mind, Smith Rowe has displayed many of the attributes of which the current Arsenal midfield is crying out for.
With the addition of Thomas Partey to the Gunners’ engine room, Mikel Arteta has an incredibly dynamic and versatile player to build his team around. However, finding the proper balance between attack and defense has not been a simple task. Suddenly, after being inundated with flair-based attacking midfielders, Arsenal is now starved for creative players.
Dani Ceballos, Granit Xhaka, and Mohamed Elneny all have their strengths and weaknesses. Xhaka brings structure and a wide passing range, but his lack of mobility and overall athleticism has made him a liability on more than one occasion – Elneny has enjoyed a renaissance lately under Arteta. The Egyptian has reminded fans of his quality by displaying a new dimension to his game in recent weeks. His pass selection has become more provocative and his mobility has added thrust to a somewhat tepid midfield.
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Ceballos continues to have a relatively erratic time in north London. After finishing the last campaign impressively, the Spaniard has once again returned to impressing only in patches. The blame does not rest squarely on his shoulders, however. Often asked to perform very different tasks from game to game, sometimes being deployed as a holding midfielder, deep-lying playmaker or box-to-box player. Although he is arguably the most suited to playing in an advanced central attacking role, Ceballos has passed the eye test most often when he is deployed deeper and tasked with pulling the strings.
Joe Willock has proven himself as a game-changer as well. With impressive performances in the Europa League, Willock earned himself a start against Leeds United. While he may have failed to turn the tide in that specific clash, there is no doubt that Willock’s power and tenacity make him a useful and effective squad member.
While all of these midfielders have qualities that the manager will need this season, Smith Rowe stands apart as a natural fit in attacking midfield. Like Saka, the 20-year-old approaches the game with a wisdom beyond his years. Neither player is the finished article yet but both read the game very intelligently and exhibit sound judgment making ability.
Under Unai Emery, Smith Rowe shone as an attacker who could easily interchange with players in midfield or across the forward line. Yet, what makes ESR so special is the ability both on and off the ball. A strong ball carrier, Smith Rowe can wriggle out of tight spaces with ease as well as break the lines by dribbling past opponents or drawing defenders to open up space for his teammates.
While on loan at Huddersfield, Smith Rowe made a habit of surging through the center of the pitch spraying the ball left and right to change the point of attack or finding the forwards with perfectly-weighted through balls. If Arteta can select the correct pivot to create a cohesive platform, Smith Rowe could shine as Arsenal’s next attacking catalyst.