Emile Smith Rowe started his first game for Arsenal in 499 days against Brentford this week. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Moggridge
Half an hour after making his first appearance for Arsenal in almost 500 days, Emile Smith Rowe was suddenly reminded of why not so long ago he was considered one of the country's brightest young midfielders.< /p>
Having received the ball in the middle of Brentford's half during a 1-0 League Cup win, Smith Rowe saw a small gap open up in front of him. There was only a few yards of space, but that was enough for Smith Rowe. Without a moment's hesitation, he rushed forward.
Seconds later, after a quick exchange of passes with Jorginho and a beautiful change of direction inside the box, Smith Rowe sent off three Brentford players. Only a fine save from home goalkeeper Mark Flekken prevented him from scoring his first goal for Arsenal since April 2022.
Receiving the ball half-turn, driving past opposition defenders, creating something out of nothing: this was Smith Rowe that Arsenal fans fell in love with. No other player in Mikel Arteta's team is as adept at cutting through midfield with the ball at his feet, and the 23-year-old can only hope his coach has taken notice of this attack.
“He U “He has different qualities than other attacking midfielders,” Arteta said afterwards. “It's great that I have him. We need him at his best and now he's starting to get rhythm and timing, which is great for the team.”
Emile Smith Rowe – Brentford ✨pic.twitter.com/UaqWBiFehk
— Arsenal (@Arsenal_FRA) September 28, 2023
After being out of the Arsenal starting line-up for so long, Smith Rowe inevitably tired in the second half. He had hoped to make more of these bursts throughout the evening, but a much-rotated Arsenal team struggled to dominate the ball at times, meaning Smith Rowe often focused more on defensive form than attacking options.
However, after such a long absence, overall it was an encouraging performance – and certainly a step forward as Smith Rowe looks to get his Arsenal career back on track.
“It's been a really difficult one period,” he said of last year. “The first operation and then another failure when I returned to the field. But this is football and you have to face these problems. You have ups and downs. I feel like I'm much stronger and healthier now. I'm just glad I came out on the other side in good shape and I just have to keep fighting.”
When I listened to Smith Rowe after the game, it was clear that his long absence from the team was not only a physical test, but also a mental test. He admitted that he used to doubt himself, but said he is working on changing that thinking.
“I changed my mentality a little bit just to go for it,” he said. “I really have nothing to lose. I tried to change this within myself. I used to have a lot of doubts. Sometimes I doubted my confidence. But now I'm really strong, I feel in good shape and I'm taking that into account.
“I think the coach really helped me with that. He helped me through the trauma and often invited me to talk about how I could become stronger mentally and the like.
“Now I really believe in myself. I have the right people around me to help me – my family, my friends and everyone at the club is always ready to help every day in training and off the field. I just need to keep going, keep believing and I'm sure the chances will come.”
Smith Rowe is now competing with Martin Odegaard, Kai Havertz and Fabio Vieira for one of the attacking midfield positions in Arteta's team. Scheme 4-3-3. It is clear that Smith Rowe is unlikely to displace Odegaard, the captain on the right flank of midfield, but there are many supporters who would like to see him given the chance ahead of Havertz on the left flank.
There are certain positional requirements that may not have always come naturally to Smith Rowe. However, he is working on this with Arteta's coaching staff. These coaches, as well as the club's fans, know what a force he can be for this team.
“I just need to stay patient and keep working hard in training,” Smith Rowe said. “There's a lot of things I'm trying to work on in training, my positioning and things like that. He [Arteta] helped me a lot. It was a challenge for me, but I really like it.”