Should Arsenal be concerned with Emile Smith Rowe?

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 20: Emile Smith Rowe of Arsenal looks on during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on April 20, 2022 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 20: Emile Smith Rowe of Arsenal looks on during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on April 20, 2022 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images) /

Emile Smith Rowe burst onto the scene in 2020/21 and was handed the No.10 shirt as a result. He improved again in 2021/22, but his end to the season was rather underwhelming.

The 21-year-old English midfielder is a proud member of our esteemed Hale End academy and has risen through the ranks to become a valuable member of the Arsenal set up under Mikel Arteta.

Smith Rowe built on his seven goals and seven assists in all competitions from the 2020/21 season to hit double figures this campaign. His 11 goals and two assists had his name up in lights many a time as he often performed to a standard that not many could follow. However, his ending to last season has caused some fans to rethink his career trajectory.

Towards the end of the season, his form didn’t just tail off; it plummeted off a cliff. Now, before the knives and pitchforks come out, let’s all understand that he still is a young player, just 21 years old, and their ebbs and flows are part and parcel of a young player playing in the English top flight.

Is there a cause for concern with Smith Rowe?

So let’s look at his numbers from last season. His 11 goals in all competitions is so far a career-high which is a great starting point and something to build on. But what perhaps gets missed is that after his strike against Brentford on February 19, Smith Rowe scored just once more from the remaining 13 games, which came at Stamford Bridge as Arsenal secured a 4-2 win over Chelsea.

In the last six games, the 21-year-old was relegated to the bench, and against Everton on the final day, he didn’t even see the field. That in itself feels a little off, doesn’t it?

Perhaps Mikel Arteta was shielding his new No.10 as he knew that the long, hard slog of a Premier League season was starting to take its toll. There was a COVID interruption as well.

When many look at the development of Smith Rowe, it is nearly always accompanied by that of Bukayo Saka. Both came onto the scene at around the same time. Saka debuted in 2018, while Smith Rowe slowly made a name for himself. But Saka has burst past his Hale End teammate.

As mentioned above, he is still relatively young in a football sense. 21 years old and playing for a big club in England. Perhaps what has contributed to the sudden declining thoughts of Smith Rowe is that he has shown the supreme ability he has by scoring in three consecutive games this season – doing so twice.

First against Aston Villa, Leicester City, and Watford and then six games later against West Ham, Leeds, and Norwich. But after the Norwich game on Boxing Day, Smith Rowe would score just two more goals before the end of the season.

His talent is undeniable: super-quick feet, an eye for a pass, a powerful runner, and he can finish. The one knock on him has been his inability to make the correct decision in the final third. He was often taking a shot when a simple pass to a teammate in a better position would have sufficed.

But again, he is still a young player learning his craft.

A club such as Arsenal doesn’t hand out their No.10 shirt to just anyone, and the fact that Smith Rowe took it when Martin Odegaard was being courted again shows the level of trust the club has in his ability.

While his end to the year was rather odd, and the fact that he barely featured is a little concerning, he still has time to hone his craft and become a bonafide starter like Saka.

His position could also point to a reason as to why his form dipped. Is he a forward or a midfielder? Often, we have seen him excel out wide and often go missing when in a midfield three that consisted of Thomas Partey and Martin Odegaard.

He needs to be closer to the final third, where he can use his technical ability and bypass defenders on the half-turn as he so elegantly does.

His end to the season ultimately coincided with him being in and out of the team. He has shown what he can do when getting an extended run in the team, but such is Arsenal’s riches out wide that he has been relegated to a bit-part player.

All is not lost. Smith Rowe can re-establish himself in the Arsenal set-up for good this upcoming season. Still, if a poor pre-season and start to the year follow a similar path to the ending of 2021/22, it will be fascinating to see what Mikel Arteta does with his No.10.