Arsenal playmaker Emile Smith Rowe has signed a new long-term deal with the club he joined as a 10-year-old and he'll be donning their number 10 jersey too.
The news is a huge boost for all connected to the club, especially considering that Aston Villa had made a serious approach for the player in recent weeks. Tying Smith Rowe down to a new deal indicates that the Gunners hierarchy are ready to place their faith in youth and Smith Rowe is in it for the long haul.
The 20-year-old started his first game of the 2020-21 Premier League season against Chelsea on Boxing Day last year and his introduction immediately made the Gunners a more fluent side. Many observers go so far as to say that his rapid acclimatization to top-level football saved Mikel Arteta's job in the short term.
🔴 Hale End boy
Emile Smith Rowe, now affectionately known as "ESR" by Arsenal fans was born in Croydon on 28 July 2000. He is a youth product of the Hale End Academy which he joined when he was 10 years old. The midfielder made his first team debut in September 2018.
🏔 Loan spells with RB Leipzig & Huddersfield
In January 2019, Smith Rowe moved to RB Leipzig to gain first-team experience in the Bundesliga for the remainder of the 2018-19 campaign. The move didn't pan out as planned with the Englishman being restricted to just three appearances because of a persistent groin injury. Still, it seems to have been a worthwhile stage in his development.
🗣"It is a dream to us"— Football Daily (@footballdaily) January 18, 2021
Emile Smith Rowe speaks about the experience he had at Huddersfield & RB Leipzig and how good it is having the other youngsters in the team@emilesmithrowe pic.twitter.com/Nhu8jVGpGL
ESR joined Huddersfield Town in the Championship in January 2020 for the remainder of the 2019-20 season. He made 19 appearances in all for the Terriers, weighing in with two goals & three assists. After his stints in wider roles, Smith Rowe was deployed solely as a central attacking midfielder.
🌟 Smith Rowe's Arsenal chance
Smith Rowe's sparkling performances in Arsenal's 3-1 win against Chelsea on Boxing Day was the start of a sequence in which the Gunners won five out of six matches. He assisted Bukayo Saka's goal against the Blues that day and then repeated the trick in a wonderful team move against West Brom on January 2nd.
ESR proved his worth and natural goal-scoring ability off the bench against Newcastle in a deadlocked FA Cup tie a week later. His composed half-volleyed finish was evidence of a player who should be aiming to add more goals to his game and Mikel Arteta will certainly be demanding more from ESR in that regard, given the technical ability that he possesses. The fact that he was initially rested for the cup tie was already proof of his burgeoning status in the first team.
Smith Rowe is a technically gifted player who already shows good decision-making capabilities in the final third of the pitch. His off-the-ball movement is possibly his greatest asset, along with his tendency to move the ball quickly and sharply over short distances. His instinctive, risk-taking, pass-and-move style seems to be getting the most out of teammates Saka and Alex Lacazette. He's a big fan of sharp layoffs, neat interchanges and forming triangles with teammates.
ESR isn't dissimilar to ex-Gunners creator Samir Nasri in terms of how he moves off the ball and looks to take risks by shifting it quickly in attacking areas. He's nominally Arsenal's "number 10" and chief creator, but often drifts into wider areas much like Nasri did under Arsène Wenger. Smith Rowe, in contrast to Nasri, takes fewer touches and doesn't carry the ball over long distances, opting instead to give-and-go with smart one-twos. Saka's goal in the snow at West Brom is a perfect illustration.
🤝 Saka 7 - ESR 10
Smith Rowe and England star Bukayo Saka are good friends and they transfer that chemistry onto the pitch. ESR has assisted three of Bukayo Saka's Premier League goals - they are the first English duo to combine for as many as three Premier League goals before either player has turned 21. If Arsenal can keep them together, it's a partnership that will bear plenty of fruit.
Saka is still 19, Smith Rowe is 20, new man Sambi Lokonga is 21, and the relatively experienced Kieran Tierney has just turned 24. Folarin Balogun, another highly-regarded prospect in the attacking department, has just signed a new contract and he's still 20. There are also huge hopes for Brazilian striker Gabriel Martinelli. Like Saka, Martinelli was born in 2001.
It's clear that the Arsenal board is looking to youth to drive their rebuild. An 8th-place finish in the Premier League last term simply isn't good enough for the club's fans. Playmaker and new number 10 Smith Rowe will be a central figure, both literally and figuratively, in this new era.
🔴 @Arsenal number 10s in the squad number era:— Futaa.com (@Futaacom) July 22, 2021
🏴 Paul Merson
🇳🇱 Dennis Bergkamp
🇫🇷 William Gallas
🇳🇱 Robin van Persie
🏴 Jack Wilshere
🇩🇪 Mesut Özil
🏴 Emile Smith Rowe #afc #smithrowe pic.twitter.com/E3SBdlQw0o
Although his socks are permanently down, Emile Smith Rowe will be looking to pull Arsenal's collective socks up in 2021-22.