Emile Smith Rowe has always battled against the odds.
As a youngster he trialled at Chelsea but was rejected for “being too small” and there were moments up until the end of last year that many felt his long-term future lay away from Arsenal.
But like all true winners, the 19-year-old has earned his place in the Gunners starting XI – albeit with the dominoes falling into the right place at the right time in December 2020.
The Croydon-born youngster earned plaudits from fans and pundits alike for his performance against Chelsea on Boxing Day, and his tireless pressing, creative football brain and desire to add a new dimension to the team has rarely faltered ever since.
His technique for the opening goal against West Brom on Sunday provided a glimpse into what manager Mikel Arteta expects of him going forward: more goals, more assists and more of an impact on the pitch.
“He’s having an incredible season ever since he started to play in December,” said Arteta.
“But he’s scoring his first Premier League goal. An incredible season for a No 10 of Arsenal means he needs to score 15 goals and give 10 assists.
“Then you are right up there with the top guys in Europe and in the league. He’s got the ability to do it but he hasn’t done it.
“We need to stay calm with him, give him the right support and step by step, I think he will be getting there.”
Some may feel that Arteta’s reverse psychology towards Smith Rowe is unfair considering it took 32-year-old Willian all season to score his first goal for Arsenal.
Others have suggested that the Gunners should be more concerned about losing the likes of Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka if their decline continues into next season.
“Talking about him [Smith-Rowe] and Saka, you’re hoping Arsenal can match their progression because if they don’t, then clubs will try and take them off of us. It is a massive concern Arsenal need to sort out,” Ian Wright told Premier League Productions.
“If they continue to play well when Arsenal aren’t great, if we do not progress as quickly as they are progressing, then we have to be worried about their ambition and what they want to do because they’re fantastic players.”
Saka and Smith Rowe have 13 goal involvements between them in the Premier League this season – a mightily impressive figure considering the latter only arrived on the scene in December.
However, Arteta is right when he says Smith Rowe needs to push on to the next level going into the new season.
Arsenal will try and extend Martin Odegaard’s loan deal or make his move a permanent one this summer, and there can be no arguments over how well-stocked the Gunners are in the creative midfield department.
“He’s been playing really well and he’s had chances in games and you can get a little bit down but the only thing left for him to do for his game – because he’s got everything: one touch, two touch, round the corner, pace – is to add more goals to his game,” said Wright.
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“Once he does that we’re talking about him and Saka, you’re hoping that Arsenal can match their progression because if they don’t then people will try and take them off of us.”