It has been an excellent start to the season for Emile Smith Rowe. This time last year, he was on the fringes of the first team, but there was no real expectation that he would break into the starting eleven. For the first half of the 2020/21 campaign, Arsenal were crying out for creativity in their attack. The media focus was on the absence of Mesut Ozil, but the answer to their creativity issues was actually a player that had come through their academy.
Last season, he was a breath of fresh air when he came into the team. Smith Rowe contributed two goals and four assists in the Premier League. His averaged a goal involvement every 241.3 minutes. For a player with a lack of Premier League experience playing for a team in relative crisis, it was an excellent return. However, it was his consistency and maturity that got Arsenal supporters most excited. The Hale End graduate averaged 2.69 shot creating actions and 0.81 shots per ninety minutes. They aren’t the most eye catching numbers, but for a young player coming into the Gunners’ team, he had a wholly positive impact.
There were questions about his long term future during the summer. Aston Villa were credited with a firm interest and made a number of bids for the player. However, it was always unlikely that he would leave Arsenal to pursue an opportunity elsewhere. The interest from Villa helped him secure a new contract and he inherited the number ten shirt that was once worn by Ozil. It was a show of faith from the club and Mikel Arteta.
This season, Smith Rowe has taken his game to a new level. There is a case to be made that he is the best player at the club. At the moment, he is certainly the player in form. Smith Rowe has contributed four goals and two assists in the Premier League. This matches his goal contributions from the previous season and he has played just 893 minutes. The 21-year-old is averaging a goal involvement every 148.8 minutes.
Following his breakthrough, it was his creativity that stood out. This season, his goal threat has reached another level. He is shooting more and the quality of his strikes has been very high. Smith Rowe is currently outperforming his expected goals (xG), which suggests that he is on a hot streak and it is unlikely to be sustainable. However, it is encouraging to see the belief in his own game to have more shots. It is clear that he is quickly becoming confident that he can play a leading role at Arsenal.
Smith Rowe is averaging 2.73 shot creating actions and 1.62 shots per ninety minutes. His underlying creative levels have remained at a consistent level, but he is shooting twice as often.
Many feared that the signing of Martin Odegaard would lead to the sidelining of Smith Rowe, but it is apparent that the academy graduate is a key member of the first team now. He made his England debut on Friday night, which caps off an excellent 2021. If he continues his current rate of progression over the next 12 months, Arsenal will have one of the best young English players on their hands.