Morning all, a quick Friday blog for you.
Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Brentford was the first time Emile Smith Rowe started a game in almost 500 days. His previous start was in that infamous Newcastle fixture on May 12th 2022, and since then he has been through a lot. A long-standing groin injury required surgery: that happened at the start of last season, and although he made his return in January (coming on as a sub in a 3-0 win over Oxford Town in the FA Cup), his minutes were few and far between until the end of the season.
In total, he played just 115 minutes of Premier League football after his comeback in the cup, and naturally enough it led to plenty of speculation about him and his place in the side. Remember, only Bukayo Saka scored more goals in the previous campaign, and it looked very much like the trajectories of these two Hale End graduates were aligned. They shared a song and a place in the affections of the Arsenal fans.
Football is funny though. If you confidently predicted Saka’s star was on the rise, you got it right. It was a fairly safe bet. Then again, the odds on Smith Rowe would have felt similarly good. Yet here we are and we’re talking about an almost 18 month gap between his last two starts for the club. You just never know.
As we’ve got to know these two young men better – in as much as we can in this media trained world – we can see there are differences. Saka’s career hasn’t been without difficulties and setbacks, but he has a fortitude and a strength of character that is just so impressive. And, despite the best efforts of countless opposition tackles has, thankfully, remained free of serious injury (everybody please touch wood now).
Smith Rowe, however, seems a little more introspective. A guy who, even when making waves, needed advice to take stock of his career and simple things like what he ate. Following the game against Brentford, he spoke about some of the issues he’s faced during this difficult period, and the self-doubt that he’s had to contend with:
I have changed my mentality a bit: just to go for it. I have not really got anything to lose. I have tried to change that inside me. I used to have a lot of doubts. I used to question my confidence at times. But now I am really strong, I am feeling really fit and I am taking that into now.
I really believe in myself now. I have got all the right people around me helping me — my family, my friends and everyone at the club is always willing to help every day in training and off the pitch. I have just got to keep going, keep believing, and I am sure the chances will come.
He also spoke about Mikel Arteta’s influence, saying:
I think the gaffer has really helped me with that. He was helping me through my injury and often pulled me for chats about how I can be mentally stronger, stuff like that.
It’s interesting, because in all the discussion of players, we very rarely consider this stuff to any great degree. You might say a player looks like he’s lacking a bit of confidence, but what he spoke about there seems to go a lot deeper than that. When you’re in your late teens and early twenties too, this stuff can be difficult to come to terms with, and sometimes you need a hard dose of perspective to see things differently. Obviously I wouldn’t have wished these struggles with injury and all the rest on him, but if he can use them in a positive manner, then he may well benefit in the longer-term.
Like many of you, I’m sure, I was delighted to see him get a start the other night, and I thought he played pretty well. There were a couple of moments in the first half in particular where we saw flashes of what he can bring to this team, and I genuinely believe that in a season when we’re going to face a lot of sides who play with a low block, his ability to burst between the lines could be the key to unlocking some packed defences.
As the manager said the other night, it’s one thing to come back, but the next thing is to stay fit, and to keep knocking on the door with his training and his performances when he does play. There’s still a way to go, I think, but it was very pleasing to see him back on the pitch and hopefully Smith Rowe 2.0 has the fitness and the confidence to really push his way back into contention.
As I’ve said often, the talent is not the question here, so fingers crossed for him, because if it works out, Arsenal will be better and stronger for it.
Finally for this morning, as we await good news on the contract front for Katie McCabe and Arsenal Women, I’ll point you in the direction of something new with regards our coverage. We’ve set up a Substack, basically a subscription-based newsletter, and Tim will be sending out a weekly (more or less) missive on top of all the other stuff we do on site.
It is absolutely free, so sign up here if you want to have that drop into your inbox. No spam, just more about our women’s team.
Right, that’s it. We’ll have our Premier League preview podcast for you on Patreon a bit later on, for now, have a good one.