Arteta names player that has improved Arsenal’s attack most

Matt Stead
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates with Emile Smith Rowe

Mikel Arteta believes Emile Smith Rowe is one of the most important players in the Arsenal attack.

Smith Rowe has established himself as a regular starter under Arteta, who entrusted the 21-year-old during a difficult period last winter.

Having played mainly in the Europa League, Smith Rowe returned from successive loan spells with RB Leipzig and Huddersfield and made his breakthrough under Arteta in late 2020, starring in a Boxing Day win over Chelsea and retaining a first-team place from there.

With six goals and two assists in 16 appearances this season, Smith Rowe has underlined both his importance and development as a regular starter, culminating in a full England debut and goal last month.

Arteta has paid tribute to the attacking midfielder, who was unavailable for the defeat to Everton but could return against Southampton.

“He has improved the dynamic and the attacking threat of the team with his movement and the way he links and finds relationships on the pitch,” Arteta said.

“His threat on goal this season has been much, much better, with the capacity that he has to create chances, to open spaces for other teammates, and he’s been a key player. Hopefully we can sustain that over time.

“Emile has trained today and he was feeling much better after losing him for the last game. Hopefully, he’ll be available to play.”

Arteta also discussed fellow England youngster Bukayo Saka, who seemed to be targeted by Everton at Goodison Park.

Saka was fouled five times – no other Arsenal player was fouled more than once – and only six players have suffered more fouls in the entire Premier League this season.

On whether the 20-year-old needs more protection from the officials, Arteta replied: “That’s the referee’s job. When you look back at the game, you notice there could easily not be 11 players on that pitch.

“It’s not him in particular, there were other incidents and players and they weren’t taken into account.”

Arsenal technical director Edu recently hailed both Smith Rowe and Saka.

“We should be really proud because bringing through young players is part of our DNA and it’s our strategy as a club to give young players a chance and help them fulfil their potential,” he said.

“So when we see players like Emile and Bukayo as internationals, that’s even better. All the young players who are at Hale End now can see that too – they are proper poster boys for the academy.”