Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have been inseparable for most of their young lives. Smith Rowe and Saka both enrolled in Arsenal’s Hale End program at the age of ten. The two progressed through the club’s youth ranks until joining forces in its under-18 team about five years ago, sparking a flurry of enthusiasm at Arsenal’s London Colney training facility.
Saka was referred to as Smith Rowe’s closest football pal last month. He is 14 months older than Saka, who entered the senior setup initially under Mikel Arteta’s predecessor Unai Emery. Saka is now 22. Saka had obvious potential from an early age, but it took him some time to break into the first squad and he didn’t play in the FA Cup victory over Chelsea in 2020 as a replacement.
Towards the conclusion of that year, with the Gunners mired in midtable, Arteta was facing increasing pressure in his first managerial position. Christmas Day 2020 saw the removal of the gloves. Arteta was under fire for his inconsistent play and poor form, so he opted to start a young player against Chelsea.
Saka was placed in an uncommon right-side position of a 4-2-3-1 formation, with teenage Brazilian Gabriel Martinelli on the left behind striker Alexandre Lacazette and Smith Rowe chose over the more seasoned Willian as the No. 10 for just his second Premier League start. Smith Rowe was 20 whereas Saka was 19. They revitalized Arsenal as a team, defeating Chelsea 3-1. Smith Rowe provided an assist and Saka scored the third goal.
As a result of Arteta’s willingness to trust youth, which has already propelled the Gunners to extraordinary heights, including the top spot in this season’s Premier League standings and a first title in nearly two decades, their knowledge of one another to a new level at that precise moment. The two immediately won over the supporters. A song with the phrase “Rockin’ All Over the World” to feature the line “Here we goo-ooo, Saka and Emile Smith Rowe.”
Nonetheless, Saka has recently been exerting a lot of effort to keep that chant popular. Smith Rowe’s career has stopped despite the fact that he has led Arsenal’s progress to the point where he is about to agree to a sizable new contract with the Gunners.
Smith Rowe sat back and observed as Saka highlighted England’s performances at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. They are probably more apart than they have ever been in that regard, so Smith Rowe must start moving forward again. The Europa League might provide a useful path back, and the first-leg matchup against Sporting CP on Thursday in the round of 16 is a decent place to start.
Smith Rowe has not yet made a start in any game this year. Illness has been a major factor in this: late-September groin surgery to address a chronic condition kept him out until after the World Cup, and a thigh problem kept him from fully recovering when he returned in January against Oxford United in the FA Cup. However, Martinelli had already displaced him before he developed fitness issues, and Arsenal’s quick growth under Arteta has included a tactical change from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3, which eliminates the No. 10 position, where he excels.
Martin Odegaard’s arrival in January 2021 gave Arteta another creative option that was essentially comparable to Smith Rowe, first on loan from Real Madrid and then in a permanent transfer worth £30 million plus bonuses six months later. Odegaard has performed so well that he has earned the position of captain. He has started 25 of Arsenal’s 26 league games thus far.
Granit Xhaka or Odegaard, who have both revitalized their careers in that position, might be replaced by Smith Rowe as a No. 8, but the deeper role makes it much more important for him to maintain his conditioning, which has previously come under scrutiny. Smith Rowe admitted he had been “a bit too lazy” to hydrate properly before matches after receiving his first senior England call-up in November 2021. Arteta had been worried about Smith Rowe’s diet, and the club had helped prepare his meals, steering him away from chocolate and toward more fish and pasta.
With Arteta, professionalism is crucial, and any lapse would prevent Smith Rowe from regaining his spot on the first team. The midfielder’s 47-minute appearance against Bournemouth last weekend was memorable for him having the disgraceful position of a substituted substitute. Smith Rowe’s early introduction due to Leandro Trossard’s injury in the first half was addressed by Arteta, but it was still notable that he was taken off the field while Arsenal was down and lacking in attacking alternatives.
It was his replacement Reiss Nelson who made the crucial pass for Ben White’s equalizer and then scored an incredible stoppage-time winner himself. He had already assisted Thomas Partey in the first of Arsenal’s three goals in a remarkable comeback from a 2-0 deficit. Smith Rowe should take inspiration from the fact that all of the Gunners’ present peripheral players might be needed if they want to compete both at home and abroad this season. identical and lacking in forward possibilities.