Arsenal’s return to form under Mikel Arteta has coincided with the development of Emile Smith Rowe.
It all changed on Boxing Day when Gabriel tested positive for COVID19. As a result fellow Brazilian’s David Luiz and Willian had to self-isolate due to being in close contact with their colleague.
With Thomas Partey also out injured, Arteta was short of midfield options going into the game against Chelsea.
The easy option would have been to go to a midfield of Granit Xhaka, Mohamed Elneny and Dani Ceballos and stick with 433. The alternative option was to play 20-year-old Emile Smith Rowe for the first time of the season in the Premier League this season and go to 4231.
Arteta went with the Smith Rowe option and – whether by luck or judgment – the decision paid off as Arsenal beat Chelsea 3-1; and it could have been 6!
Smith Rowe has now started the last 5 league games in row, with Arsenal winning 4. He also came off the bench to score the winner against Newcastle in the FA Cup.
His link up with Bukayo Saka has transformed Arsenal.
With Saka replacing Nicholas Pepe on the right hand side and Smith Rowe replacing Willian in the middle, our play is more inventive, quicker and direct.
We re now passing round corners, finding team mates in space, and getting Saka one on one with full backs.
Arsenal’s improvement is partly to do with Arteta moving to 4231 – which gives us that extra creativity in the final 3rd – and the introduction of Smith Rowe.
The easy option would have been to put Willian straight back into the 10 role following his return, but Arteta stuck with the young Englishman whose performances did not warrant being dropped.
Arteta has come in for criticism this year for apparently “hating youth”. His critics point to the lack of game time William Saliba has had, as well as Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah.
But the truth is if a player comes in and performs well, Arteta will continue giving them a chance.
Saka is proof of this.
When you compare Saka and Nelson, the former is levels ahead of the later who has struggled to kick on.
Likewise compare Willock to Smith Rowe.
Both men have had chances over the last 18 months, but Willock has not reached the levels of Smith Rowe in the Premier League.
Finally we have Nketiah and Gabriel Martinelli.
It is easy to forget that the Brazilian is still just 19-years-old. Martinelli has outperformed Nketiah in the 18 months he has been at the club – despite spending nearly 12 months out injured. He is 2 years younger!
You can not give every player that comes through Hale End the chance. Players need to show they deserve that chance on the training ground; and then back it up with performances on the pitch.
Saka, Smith Rowe and Martinelli have done so, Nelson, Willock & Nketiah have not.
It would not surprise me if Nelson, Willock and Nketiah are all moved on over the next 2 transfer windows.
The trio would raise Arsenal close to £60million in much needed transfer fees.
It is important not to hype up Smith Rowe too much, however. He has started just 6 Premier League games in his career.
Talk of him replacing Mesut Ozil and being the “Croydon de Bruyne” is premature. He needs to become the best Smith Rowe that he can.
But his performances will ensure he is considered for selection for every game between now and the end of the season – although he will be due to be rotated out soon to give him a little rest.
And moving forward to next season he could save the club millions.
Talk was that Arsenal were looking to sign both Julian Brandt and Emi Buendía to replace Ozil; giving Arteta 2 options at 10.
What Smith Rowe has done through his performances is force his way into the equation. We now no longer need 2 10s. Smith Rowe can fill one of the roles. Most likely providing cover for a more senior, developed option.
What Smith Rowe’s performances does do is highlight even more how much of a bad transfer Willian is.
Willian and Smith Rowe are basically the same player. Both capable of playing anywhere in the 3 behind a striker as well as deeper.
Football and transfers are easy in hindsight, and hindsight shows that we should not have given a 3-year deal to Willian with Smith Rowe waiting in the wings.
The flip side to that is Smith Rowe had been out on loan and then injured over pre-season, so maybe Arteta had just not seen enough of him?
His development is going to be exiting to watch.
I agree completely. If ‘critics of Arteta’ complain that he has not given Willock and Nketiah enough chances – they are wrong. These lads have had plenty of game time but have shown they are too ordinary. The 3rd young player who is very promising (when fully fit) is not Nelson but Martinelli.
Saka over Nelson
Martinelli over Nketiah
ESR over Willock
And if a player better than Saka, Martinelli or ESR comes through they will get there chance
Good write up. ESR is definitely one to be nurtured for the future. I saw Ozil had a sly dig at Arteta on his way out saying ‘see how performances can improve with a number 10.’ He wasn’t completely right. You need an effective 10. Ozil has been ineffective for years. I don’t think I can forgive the laziness in the Europa League final and I don’t believe I can be convinced that his form improved from that low since 2019.
I was against the Willian signing from the off. His performances for Chelsea last season only improved after the restart which says to me he was playing for a contract. but it seems the powers that be (Edu, Arteta, and co) took this to mean he’s still got it – I mean he carried Chelsea into the top 4. The only way he fit at Arsenal was to get Pepe to roll his socks up but most importantly to play that 10 role Ozil had been poor at. What transpired is a shocking daylight robbery! He’s been awful in all positions and honestly been depriving Pepe of minutes. A 3 year deal on £200k a week! Saka is getting £10k a week reportedly!
What is happening with Pepe is disappointing. He is capable of so much more but needs minutes and nurturing. The club has invested in him and should be protecting the value of that investment. He has lost over £30m in MV in the last 15 months and some of this can be recouped if he performs when given a run of minutes. At the moment he is not, because Arteta is also rotating Willian in. It also doesn’t help that he also tends to look like he cannot be bothered..
All of this means that ESR and Saka will continue to play and develop. I would like the club to keep Willock because there is a talent there, perhaps not in a 10 role but in central midfield. I think he is one for the future as well. this year’s UEL group stage was probably the ‘easiest’ we have had in years, and of the 3 (Nketiah and Nelson), he performed best albeit against poorer opposition. I think he should be kept and the other 2 sold in the summer. Nketiah has a year left so it is probably best. Nelson has 2. They can both still have stellar careers.
I have checked Lacazette stats and over 3 seasons he was poorer than Giroud for goal returns. Giroud was allowed to leave for not having a decent enough return. I think the same applies to Lacazette. He takes so bloody long to line up his shots, the chance is gone before he’s ready. I don’t know who comes into replace him in the summer (obvs not Nketiah), but I hope Martinelli has a run through the middle in the second half of the season. He has a striker’s instincts around the goal.
Finally, no one is talking about Xhaka. I am not a fan but, will admit he has been very good in the last couple of games.