Emile Smith Rowe made only his second Premier League start for Arsenal against Chelsea.
Few expected that following his full Premier League debut, Emile Smith Rowe would have to wait a full 12 months to get a taste of action for Arsenal in a top-flight starting lineup.
That came under Freddie Ljungberg, someone who only won one game during his short tenure but had already foreseen the plight of so much of this squad. That lineup at Goodison Park could well have been his idea of the best team available, or him opening the door for the new manager; a not-so-subtle hint at where his best interests lie.
Mikel Arteta prospered with those who’d cemented their place as regular fixtures in the side. The success of those involved may have brought silverware, but they’ve also played their part in leading Arsenal to this point.
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Thus, over the 12 months that followed since Smith Rowe featured in that dire 0-0 draw, he’s been left out in the cold. Injuries haven’t been kind to him, he’s briefly played his football elsewhere, and been left to soak up the adoration from supporters who’ve bayed for his senior inclusion.
The agonising wait for Arteta to shift from his rigid ways finally came to fruition on Boxing Day, against none other than Chelsea. Not the match many expected Smith Rowe to get the nod in.
Taking up his place in the No. 10 slot, for the first time this season, Arsenal fielded a player in that role who is, shockingly, built to perform that very task.
Square pegs in round holes had become the norm, shoehorning all manner of profile into a position their skill set didn’t tend to in a bid to amend the dearth of creativity that has plagued this side. Smith Rowe is different.