When Chelsea travelled to the Emirates Stadium on Boxing Day to face Arsenal, the worst was expected for the Gunners.
They were just a game away from equalling their worst run in Premier League history and they were devoid of confidence and quality.
The Gunners hadn’t won in the top-flight since early November when they beat Manchester United with grit, determination and solidity. Those three qualities had been sorely missing over the last seven weeks but they were back in abundance against Chelsea, winning 3-1.
Mikel Arteta had to contend with issues to Gabriel, David Luiz and Willian which meant there was a renewed freshness to the Gunners’ starting XI.
Starting in attack was Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe, three young players who injected pace and fluid movement into Arsenal’s attack. For weeks now their play in the final third has been turgid, slow and to put it bluntly, boring. However, this time it was completely different.
Martinelli and Saka were rampant down the wings but it was the man in the middle, someone “who could find space in a telephone box” according to former Huddersfield manager Danny Cowley, that was the real star.
Of course, wer’e talking about Smith Rowe, a midfielder who stole the show playing in a number 10 position. Arsenal’s creativity has been a problem all season and without Mesut Ozil in the squad, it has been a contentious issue.
Though, given a platform against Chelsea to be the main provider, Smith Rowe took it with both hands. His low centre of gravity was exceptional, nutmegging N’Golo Kante on his way to creating two key chances.
The 20-year-old has struggled with injuries in the last few years but his potential is now starting to be realised as he turned in a superb all-round performance. Smith Rowe won 75% of the duels he was involved in, completed 79% of his passes and was successful with half of the dribbles he attempted.
Arsenal supporters have become accustomed to seeing tiresome displays from Willian this season, so it was a huge relief to see someone with such vibrancy and desire playing ahead of him.