Sunday, March 3, 2024

Smith Rowe stays, and that’s good news

Good morning.

Although I mentioned it in passing in yesterday’s blog, I want to start with the story that Arsenal are not willing to let Emile Smith Rowe leave this summer. I find this both pleasing and a little bit surprising, to be honest.

Usually, the clearest indicator of how a manager views a player is how often he uses him, and in the case of Smith Rowe, the last few months have been worrying in that regard. Even in desperate times, down 1-0 to Nottingham Forest away from home, he didn’t get on the pitch. You could argue it was all moot at that point, City were going to win the league anyway, but you only had to look at Mikel Arteta’s post-match press conference to see how much that defeat and performance hurt him. He desperately wanted the points.

Not even a Hail Mary appearance for Smith Rowe.

I was worried. It suggested that Arteta’s faith in this player to have any kind of positive impact was basically at zero. 114 minutes of the last 1440 certainly tells a story. If you saw it happening to a player at any other club, you’d probably come to the conclusion that there was an issue or a problem of some kind. Bear in mind, he’s been fit and in the squad all this time.

Then again, a few weeks ago, there was a crack of light, the door held open for Smith Rowe, and perhaps one or two others, when Arteta spoke about how the team can improve next season. Yes, the transfer market is a big part of it, but we can’t buy every single player we need, as the manager referenced:

There are players we haven’t had the best out of this season. It’s our job to improve them because there are a few players who haven’t had the minutes or the performances and we have to seek for those players to give us a different edge. It’s not only about signing players.

Smith Rowe fits that bill. He was our second highest goalscorer last season behind Bukayo Saka; this time around the only outfield player with fewer minutes than him was Cedric Soares and he joined Fulham on loan in January. Clearly there is something not right, but perhaps the end of the season and the summer ahead is something of a clean slate.

I’ve seen people suggest Arteta was protecting him after his surgery, drawing parallels with the way Gabriel Martinelli was eased back into action after his big injury. I can’t rule that out definitively, but I’m not convinced that’s the case. Smith Rowe, while young, was already an established player, someone who played a lot of games, and the aim would surely have been to ensure he recovered from his operation, but then to get him back into a competitive situation as soon as possible.

I’ve seen talk of attitude. I’ve seen talk that he’s training better than ever. As ever with the tight dressing room that Arteta runs, there are things that we don’t know, and in the absence of information we have to try and fill the gaps ourselves. Even if you do so with consideration, you can end up wide of the mark.

In an ideal world, at some point next season we’ll get one of those interviews where either player or manager reveal a snippet of a conversation that explains things further. Like the way Arteta demanded more goals from Granit Xhaka and he went off, came back fitter and sharper, and delivered. When Smith Rowe bangs in a winner in a North London derby or something, perhaps we’ll get that reveal.

Ultimately though, this is good news. We love a good signing, but we especially love a good Hale End graduate, and there’s no mistake Smith Rowe is one of those. On his day, he’s such a fun exciting player to watch – for me, being of a certain vintage, there are shades of Paul Merson to his game. It wasn’t long ago we were laughing at the idea that a team like Aston Villa thought they could sign him from us, and the saddest part about what happened this season is something like that seemed like a genuine possibility.

Whatever the issue, whatever the problem, let’s hope he can turn this around. I don’t think it’s exactly like a second chance, but that public security over his future should allow him to go away with England U21s (if he’s picked), play some football to get him close to match fit, then return for pre-season ready to compete in what will be a bigger, deeper squad of players.

Right, let’s leave it there for this morning. Have a great Thursday.

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