Such has been the meteoric rise that Emile Smith Rowe has enjoyed over the past month or so at Arsenal, that Mikel Arteta decided he was one of the players who needed to be rested ahead of his side’s Premier League clash against Southampton.
The Gunners boss rested him completely from the squad that faced the Saints in the FA Cup at the weekend, and it was perhaps of little surprise that the north Londoners looked a shadow of their recent selves without their creative hub – they had 62% of possession but only had two shots on target in the entire game.
So when Arsenal head back to the south coast on Tuesday night to take on Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side, this time in the Premier League, Smith Rowe surely has to be one of the first names on the teamsheet.
The England youth international has been a welcome breath of fresh air for a Gunners side that were in desperation mode before he was thrust into the spotlight.
Since then, the £20k-a-week earning Smith Rowe has led the way as Arsenal rattled off four wins and a draw in the five consecutive league games that he started.
He’s picked up three assists in those games, and also scored the opener in the FA Cup third clash against Newcastle in extra-time, when Arteta brought him on to act as his game-changer.
It’s certainly a massive burden to place on someone so young – Smith Rowe doesn’t turn 21 until late July – but he’s already shown that he can handle that pressure.
Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand spoke glowingly about the Arsenal prodigy, saying on Monday: “He’s come in and done unreal things. The way he’s played, he’s been a breath of fresh air at Arsenal, I’m sure the fans, if they were there, would be going crazy about him.
“He brings assists, he brings a calmness to the way Arsenal play. He’s the type of player who could have played over a number of generations at Arsenal in the way he plays football.”
And when you consider how poorly Willian has been performing for this entire season – he’s yet to score for his new club – and the fact that he failed to take his chance against Southampton when playing in the number ten role, it makes it all the more important for Smith Rowe’s immediate return to the starting line-up tonight.