If Mikel Arteta had envisioned before the game of how his Arsenal master-plan would work out, then it came pretty close to perfection on Thursday night.
The Gunners boss rang the changes for the Europa League clash against Molde, and was rewarded with a fine team performance, including a couple of special individual displays from the likes of Reiss Nelson and Nicolas Pepe – the latter of course having the chance for redemption following his red card against Leeds United at the weekend.
But whilst the side’s last goal-scorer on the night, Folarin Balogun, may be the talk of the town after scoring almost immediately after coming on, it was another one of the club’s Hale End academy graduates that offered a tantalising glimpse of what’s to come: Emile Smith Rowe.
The Arsenal starlet has been unable to show Arteta his talents thus far, spending the second-half of last season on loan at Championship side Huddersfield, before starting the new campaign with a niggling injury.
But after making his return and finally getting onto the pitch on Thursday night, the 20-year-old showed exactly why he could be a key piece of the Arteta jigsaw moving forward.
Despite coming on for the final 15 minutes of the game, Smith Rowe was energetic and industrious, picking up pockets of space in the number ten role and showing a willingness to make those penetrating runs in behind too.
As per Sofascore, he had both a 100% pass and dribble success rates, and also won his only duel of the game too. And of course he was the man to supply Balogun for his goal too, collecting a sharp pass off fellow substitute Kieran Tierney before effortlessly picking out the Gunners striker to turn and fire home.
And speaking after the game, Arteta made it clear just how highly he rates him, saying: “Emi is a player with incredible talent who just needs time. He’s got the ability and the quality to play for this club,” he said.
“Mentally it’s always a challenge because the demands are so high and the pressure is high to play here. You need to hit those levels to become an Arsenal player. It’s down to him as well. I really like him and it’s a player that we had a little bit patient and we’ve got a great player there.”
It may have only been a cameo, but Smith Rowe really showed an exciting glimpse of what he can do for Arsenal.