Mikel Arteta reveals why Emile Smith Rowe has not featured amid Arsenal future admission


There were cheers aplenty as Arsenal returned to the Champions League against PSV last week. The biggest one of the night though did not come for any of the Gunners' four goals or the sounds of the competition's famous theme song before kick off. Instead it came for the introduction of Emile Smith Rowe.

Despite playing just 241 minutes last season, the Hale Ender remains one of the most popular members of the Arsenal squad. Mikel Arteta admitted the reception for the man who arguably saved his job in a sliding doors victory over Chelsea on Boxing Day in 2020 made him emotional. Despite external perceptions he insists the he shares the fanbase's admiration for Smith Rowe.

"Here he is incredibly popular," he said on Tuesday ahead of Arsenal's Carabao Cup third round clash with Brentford. "We all love him. It’s no different to what the people feel to what we feel about him."

Still though, that love is yet to translate into minutes. That brief cameo against PSV was Smith Rowe's first outing of this season, while a five minute appearance in added time against Tottenham on Sunday was all he has managed in the league. This is despite an impressive showing with England's Under-21s in the Euros over the summer and some promising appearances in pre-season. Arteta has insisted that will change when Arsenal travel to the Gtech Community Stadium on Wednesday night.

"There's been many reasons why he hasn't started a match," the Spaniard said. "He was out for a long, long time. He had a sequence of matches that he played with the national team, then he came in and didn't participate. In the last two matches he's played more minutes and tomorrow he will have a big chance to show that he can play at this level and be a really important player for us."

While impressing in the Carabao Cup will be a start, Smith Rowe will of course have his sights set on bigger stages. The Hale Ender was Arsenal's second highest scorer only two seasons ago and will want to regain his position of importance in the squad. Since that impressive campaign though Gabriel Martinelli and Leandro Trossard have moved ahead of him in the left wing position and Smith Rowe has been remodelled as a central midfielder which is where Arteta sees his future. "The best position for Emile is in those pockets," the Spaniard says. "It is not to play as a pure winger. I think it suits him, I think the relationships will suit him. Now he needs the minutes and he needs to prove that he can do what he can do."

To achieve that though Smith Rowe faces yet another obstacle. Martin Odegaard has recently signed a contract and is the club captain, while the additions of Fabio Vieira and Kai Havertz have forced Smith Rowe further down the pecking order. It is this that Arteta believes is the Hale Ender's biggest hurdle to gaining regular minutes at Arsenal.

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"At this level [competition for places] is [his biggest problem]," he says. "And if he goes to the national team, does he start? It depends on who is also in that position. So it’s one thing to be there, the other is to start. And then once you start, are you consistent enough to stay there? And you have to stay first as well."

Smith Rowe though, may not want to wait around too much longer. The 23-year-old is raring to go after finally beginning to play pain-free following surgery on a long-term groin injury. With all the obstacles in his way to regular game time, it was no surprise to see him linked with a move away from the Emirates Stadium. Chelsea showed an interest late in the summer transfer window, although Arteta is insistent that Arsenal never considered letting him go. Instead he has challenged the Hale End product to become an important player for the Gunners once again.

"He needs to be," he says. "A player of that talent, who has come through our system. That is what we want to do. Our best players, and the players with the quality and talent they have, that they contribute to us to take the club where we want."

It's been a long journey back for Smith Rowe. Arsenal are certainly hopeful that he continues it in north London, but it could be over in West London at the Gtech Community Stadium where he can get things back on track.

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