Emile Smith Rowe started for the first time since October last 2023 on Tuesday night, and while he didn't dazzle, Mikel Arteta liked what he saw from his No. 10.
For the first time in what felt like forever, Emile Smith Rowe was handed a start in the Premier League by Arteta. After seemingly being on the periphery at Arsenal, the Englishman got a chance to stake his claim in the team against Nottingham Forest.
Mikel Arteta heaps praise on Emile Smith Rowe after Forest win
While Smith Rowe won't win any awards for his 70-minute effort, he did show signs that were a sight for sore eyes. He also looked dangerous when he made runs in behind the Forest defence.
“I’m really pleased with Emile as well because it’s been a long time since he had an opportunity to start a game," Arteta said via arsenal.com. "He’s been training really well, really sharp."
Sharp indeed, Mikel.
Smith Rowe was among the brightest Arsenal players in a dominant first half from the visitors as he had two shots which narrowly missed the target. He was one of few who injected pace into the Gunners' attacks, combining well on occasions with Gabriel Jesus in and around the box.
With some thinking that he could be seeking a move elsewhere given his lack of minutes over the last 12 months, the fact that he was handed a start by Arteta might show that his future is still in north London.
Additionally, having a fit Smith Rowe for the title run-in could be hugely beneficial for the Gunners as every member of the squad will be needed.
In his first start in months, overall, what did Mikel think of Smith Rowe's efforts?
“That he went for it, that he was free, he was flowing, he was moving, he was participating, his body language was good - he’s just a beautiful footballer to watch,” Arteta said. “I’m really pleased because he was really connected with the team and I thought he played the game in a really good way.”
It was a sight for sore eyes to see Smith Rowe back in a big way for Arsenal as fans have been wondering if we had seen the last of him as a key component of Arteta's setup.
Well, against Forest, we saw that ESR clearly has a role to play over the coming months and while he didn't set the world alight at the City Ground, it was the first step back to becoming the swashbuckling footballer we know he can be.