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Arsenal’s forgotten man who could be secret weapon in title battle

Emile Smith Rowe has given Mikel Arteta a timely reminder of his vast capabilities after a standout performance against Luton, which earned him a thunderous standing ovation.

An eternal Arsenal fan-favourite, Smith Rowe was a key source of attacking impetus throughout the contest at the Emirates, being heavily involved in both of Arsenal’s goals in a commanding 2-0 win over the Hatters.

After sparking the movement that led to Martin Odegaard’s opener, robbing Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu of possession in Luton’s final third, he went on to notch his second assist of the season on the stroke of half-time – sliding the ball across towards fellow Hale End talent Reiss Nelson to force an own goal from Daiki Hashioka.

His contributions helped define Arsenal’s evening as the hosts got back to winning ways and, at least briefly, returned to the top of the Premier League pile. And having spent months struggling to break into Arteta’s side, the Spaniard could only sing Smith Rowe’s praises at full-time.

“I love him as a player,” the Arsenal manager said in his post-match press conference. “It’s a joy to watch him, how he moves, how he changes direction, how physical he was today as well without the ball.

“He won a lot of duels and he was thinking with that killer instinct to play forward and to make things happen and when Emile is in that moment it’s very difficult to stop him. Today he helped us a lot to win the game.”

Emile Smith Rowe impressed as Arsenal secured a commanding win over Luton (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Emile Smith Rowe impressed as Arsenal secured a commanding win over Luton (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

A constant bundle of energy and the focal point of Arsenal’s play, it was a performance that will reinvigorate the burning desire of Gunners fans to see their much-loved academy product awarded an extended run in the side.

Arsenal’s resurgence into the Premier League title picture has been largely with Smith Rowe as a passenger, with the Croydon-born prodigy having struggled on the fringes for the past couple of seasons.

His career trajectory has plateaued since bursting onto the scene a few years ago. Prior to the breakout of Bukayo Saka, the midfielder was touted as the next big thing to come out of Arsenal’s academy. This was backed up by a sensational start to the 2021-22 season, which saw him earn a first England call-up after bagging five goals in eight appearances.

However, as pressure grew to perform amid the arrival of an array of attacking reinforcements in the summer of 2022, Smith Rowe would soon find himself on the end of an untimely long-term injury. An ongoing groin issue forced him to go under the knife, which ruled him out for much of the first half of the 2022-23 campaign.

And to the detriment of Smith Rowe’s chances of regaining a place in the team, Arsenal were flying in his absence. Establishing themselves as a top title contender for the first time in close to a decade, Smith Rowe would return to availability in January with competition for places at its absolute peak. But with the likes of Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and new signing Leandro Trossard all in firing form, Smith Rowe fell sharply out of favour under Arteta.

Smith Rowe could prove to be a secret weapon during the title run-in (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Smith Rowe could prove to be a secret weapon during the title run-in (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Fan support and optimism has hardly waned for the 23-year-old, with Gooners continuing to generously dub him as the ‘Croydon De Bruyne’. But ever since dropping down the pecking order, he’s struggled to work his way back into the Spaniard’s good graces.

Opportunities have been even harder to come by this term. Prior to the Luton clash, Smith Rowe had been awarded just two Premier League starts, forced to settle for a place on the bench for much of the campaign.

However, as Arsenal look to avenge title heartbreak from last year, Smith Rowe may have just proved that he can play a prominent role in the Gunners’ hectic season run-in. Finding himself with a rare starting berth against Rob Edwards’ relegation-threatened side, the Englishman grabbed his chance to impress by the scruff of the neck, dazzling in midfield and showing a glimpse of the player many still expect him to develop into.

To say that Smith Rowe is permanently back to his best would be slightly jumping the gun. After all, consistency and regular availability has been a recurring problem for Arsenal’s number 10. Nevertheless, his display against Luton provides plenty of reason for encouragement, both for fans and the player himself, who has long been in need of a boost in confidence.

What appeared to be a write-off season for Smith Rowe on a personal level could yet prove the opposite, should Arteta instil faith in him at the most critical time of the campaign.