What's going wrong for Emile Smith Rowe?! Why the out-of-favour Arsenal midfielder's future is far from certain
Just what is going with Emile Smith Rowe and Arsenal? It’s a question many fans have been asking themselves during the past couple of months, with the club’s No.10 having found himself somewhat out in the cold under Mikel Arteta.
Smith Rowe was Arsenal’s second top scorer last season, finding the net 11 times in all competitions. Only Bukayo Saka (12) scored more and the winger bolstered his tally with two penalties during the closing weeks of the campaign.
Smith Rowe who, along with Saka, had come into the team a year earlier and helped turn around a season that was in danger of complete collapse, looked well set to go on and cement his place in Arteta’s new-look Arsenal this season.
But now he is approaching the summer with growing questions around just where his future could lie.
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“In football it’s not about what you’ve done a year or a month ago”
Could a homegrown player, one of Hale End’s poster boys, have to move on to get the sort of game time he needs to continue his development at such a crucial stage of his career?
A short time ago you would have been accused of being crazy just to suggest it. But now the notion of Smith Rowe leaving Arsenal looks far more plausible.
“He’s pushing,” Arteta said last week when pressed on Smith Rowe’s plight.
“In football it’s not about what you’ve done a year or a month ago, it’s about what you do now, what you did yesterday and what you’re going to do tomorrow.
“The player has to have that mindset and the contribution has to be now to the team to make us better and win games.”
121 minutes of football since January
Smith Rowe has made just 12 appearances in all competitions this season. Not one of them has been a start.
Yes, he suffered an injury setback in September that saw him have to undergo surgery to fix a long-standing groin issue that had plagued him for almost all of his senior career. But he returned from that lay-off in January.
Since then he has clocked up just 121 minutes of action in eight substitute appearances.
The longest he has been on the pitch in a single game is the 47 minutes he was handed when he replaced the injured Leandro Trossard during the first half of the 3-2 win against Bournemouth.
Arteta has had several opportunities to use the playmaker, but he has opted not to.
There was the 3-0 win at Fulham, a game that would have been perfect to give Smith Rowe some much-needed minutes given the comfortable nature of the scoreline in the second half. Yet he didn’t even come on.
Against Leeds, with Arsenal leading 3-0, Arteta turned to Bukayo Saka after the interval - a player he had left out of the starting XI due to illness and had been unable to train the day before the game.
Surely Smith Rowe would have been a better option given his need for game time?
“He is on the right path”
Smith Rowe didn’t even get on the pitch during the 3-3 draw against Southampton.
With Granit Xhaka absent due to illness, the out-of-form Fabio Vieira got the nod to play in the left-sided No.8 role. Then, with Arsenal 3-1 down and in need of goals, Arteta used five substitutes to try to change the game.
Smith Rowe, a player who scored 11 times last season, was not one of them.
It’s no wonder so many Arsenal fans are confused by the situation.
“There’s a lot of competition now in the team and he needs as well the right moment and the right time in the game to get the opportunity and then he needs to take it,” Arteta said, when asked why Smith Rowe has been struggling for game time.
“I think what he needs is like any player. He needs clarity, he needs to feel loved, to understand where he wants to be and what he needs to do to get there.
“He is on the right path."
Overlooked for Vieira
The frustrating thing for Smith Rowe is that he is now pain-free for the first time in years.
The operation he had in September has worked perfectly and the groin problem that has been troubling him since his youth days has been cleared up.
So his lack of game time can’t be put down to anything fitness related. He is said to be training well and his data readings are believed to be strong.
Arteta is just choosing not to use him and that could be understandable if all the players ahead of him in the pecking order were performing well. But anyone who has seen Vieira’s performances in recent weeks will know that is not the case.
The Portuguese playmaker is clearly talented and has shown moments of quality during his first season in England.
But those moments have been few and far between, especially in recent weeks when he has really struggled to make any sort of impact when he has been given an opportunity.
Vieira did cost big money last summer, however, so you can perhaps understand why Arteta would be keen to give him as many chances as possible to prove his worth ahead of another summer when the manager will be calling on the owners to free up cash to strengthen the squad.
“It was a difficult match for a lot of players but for Fabio, he hasn’t played enough minutes,” Arteta explained after the former Porto man’s disappointing showing in the 3-3 draw with Southampton.
“He had good periods but the way the game starts as well, instead of going one or two-nil up, and everything goes in your favour, it starts to go in a much more difficult way. That doesn’t help.”
What Smith Rowe’s lack of game time will mean for his long-term Arsenal future remains to be seen. He will still have three years left on the contract he signed in 2021 when this season comes to an end.
He is happy at Arsenal and does not want to leave, but he will be well aware that the club are looking to add to their squad again this summer ahead of their return to the Champions League.
One of the players they like is Mason Mount, who could leave Chelsea, and should Arsenal firm up their interest in the England international that would further cloud the outlook for Smith Rowe in north London.
The 22-year-old has his own international ambitions. It wasn’t long ago that he was scoring on his England debut having forced his way into Gareth Southgate’s thinking prior to his injury lay-off.
But now he is way down the pecking order and, given the level of competition in Southgate’s squad when it comes to the attacking midfield positions, that is not something that is going to change unless he starts getting regular game time.
There are lots of unanswered questions swirling around Smith Rowe’s future ahead of the summer.
Is he still a key part of Arteta’s plans? Will he get a chance to impress when everyone returns for pre-season? Or will he be forced to look elsewhere to get the minutes he needs to develop?
Just the notion of that would be deemed unthinkable just 12 months ago, but things change very quickly in football.
One thing that is for sure is that Smith Rowe’s future is more uncertain than ever as summer draws ever closer.
Just two years ago Arsenal fought off strong interest from Aston Villa in Smith Rowe, rejecting multiple bids for their young playmaker before handing him his new contract.
Will their resolve to keep their No.10 be as firm if offers arrive this time around? As it stands that looks far from clear.