Emile Smith-Rowe
LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 18: Emile Smith-Rowe of Arsenal runs with the ball during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Newcastle United at Emirates Stadium. Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

It’s a Friday night in July. Normally by this time the footballing (soccer) season is well over. In fact, during normal times the players are returning from a few weeks off for pre-season training and some friendly fixtures to get back into the swing of things. The pandemic has changed everything though. Instead, Luton Town were playing Huddersfield Town in a massive bottom of the table EFL Championship clash. In the Huddersfield team, that night is Arsenal loanee Emile Smith-Rowe.

A lot was being made of the 19-year-old midfielder. He had already found his way into the Arsenal Europa League squad and made his Premier League debut, before being loaned out to Huddersfield. The sky was the limit and his loan was just a stepping stone. Rightly I was worried about what he could do to (a then-struggling) Luton Town. We were rooted at the bottom of the table and looked all but relegated.

THINGS ARE NEVER THAT EASY!

The game kicked off and then Emile Smith-Rowe proceeded to… go missing for ninety minutes. Luton won the game 2-0, moving off the bottom of the table in the process, and dragging Huddersfield into the relegation battle. After much hype about this star in the making, I was left feeling confused. Was it all a lie? Was he not the next big thing that the English media like to label every young player who has a somewhat decent game?

Fast forward five months and imagine my surprise when I see the same Emile Smith-Rowe named in the Arsenal team to play Chelsea on Boxing Day. Had things gotten this bad for the once-great Arsenal? Had the pressure gotten to manager Mikel Arteta? If this kid couldn’t cope with Luton in the Championship how was he ever going to be able to cope with Premier League Chelsea?

I was wrong on every account. Instead the now 20-year-old tore Chelsea to shreds and helped Arsenal win 3-1. It was the Gunners’ first Premier League win in eight games and gave fans bragging rights over their London rivals. It also extended Mikel Arteta’s time at the Emirates as he looked to be on his last legs before the clash.

SMITH-ROWE THE SAVIOR!

Smith-Rowe has played in every Premier League match since in which Arsenal have yet to lose. Wins over Brighton and West Brom followed by a draw with Crystal Palace saw the Gunners move away from the bottom of the table to a more secure mid-table position. They then got back to winning ways on Monday with a comfortable 3-0 win over Newcastle. Smith-Rowe had three assists during this time and Arsenal fans raving.

It’s left me baffled if I’m totally honest, especially having seen him go missing against Luton not so long ago. Then I remembered that he’s not the first big-name player with a bright future to play against us on loan and go missing. There was a certain Harry Kane who played for Norwich on loan from Tottenham in the famous FA Cup game of 2013. He got substituted at half time because Janos Kovacs refused to let him out of his pocket.

The moral of the story is don’t judge players playing against Luton because we make everyone look bad. It’s obviously because we are so good. This is why Chelsea should be worried on Sunday in our FA Cup clash.

Alas back to reality. I was convinced after that Luton clash Smith-Rowe would be yet another budding star whose flame burnt out before it got a chance to shine. Instead, he’s going from strength to strength. So what has changed?

GIVE YOUTH A CHANCE!

Well for one he’s playing with better players (sorry Huddersfield fans) and also looks to be full of confidence, something he lacked during that Luton game. He also got given the chance, which let’s face it happens very rarely these days to young players at the top clubs. He’s also getting a chance at the same time that other youth products like Bukayo Saka, Joe Willock, and Gabriel Martinelli are finding their feet. The camaraderie between these players and the relationships built through playing at the youth level is reaping rewards, not only for them as individual players but also for Arsenal as a club.

I’m sure Mikel Arteta will be preaching patience with the young player who has not yet reached double digits in Premier League games played. However, Arsenal fans have had little to smile about this season and will be clutching onto this with both hands. Especially since Mezut Ozil finally exited the club after being out in the cold for what seems like forever. Had Arsenal not broken out of their early-season funk and released Emile Smith-Rowe on the world his departure could have been a bigger deal. Instead, it’s best of luck Mesut… let’s go, Emile.

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