Smith Rowe Did What Was Asked
So much of Smith Rowe’s performance was worth lauding over. Above the moves and touches, it was his comfort in the role, one he had been starved of for over a year, that stood out.
Making just his second Premier League start ever, not to mention in a London derby against vastly superior opposition for a side who’d gone seven matches without victory, his confidence to express offers a better insight into his future than any manner of flicks or tricks.
You’d have been mistake for assuming he’d began every game this season.
This was a comfortable performance, but not some exceptional Mesut Ozil circa 2015/16 display. Smith Rowe barely put a foot wrong, but his presence alone changed the complexion of the game and brought a whole new dynamic to the way Arsenal played.
It was about using his ability in the way the No. 10 role demands: showing for the ball in the right areas and utilising the spaces that can cause the opponent the most damage. For the first time this season, Arsenal could build their way through the thirds with centralised triangles, aiding progression and fluidity in attacking motions.
Any forward player will have certain characteristics that can suit the attacking midfield slot, like Joe Willock, although as an all-round package the 20-year-old encompasses the physical, mental and technical traits needed to assume that responsibility.
A wise operator, Smith Rowe has the intuition to not only drift into dangerous central areas, but control the ball and turn possession into danger in the blink of an eye. He wasn’t out of this world against Chelsea, but he didn’t need to be. That’s what is so crucial.
Play the profiles for the positions they’re tailored to and they’ll be able to influence matches without being outstanding. Smith Rowe was able to impact the game just playing well. With a run of fixtures under his belt, who knows how influential he could be when he’s hitting top form.
Arteta is learning as a coach. Playing profiles over names may be his biggest lesson yet.