Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has been slammed for showing favouritism to summer signing Kai Havertz over academy graduate Emile Smith Rowe, who should be starting over the German international “every day of the week”.
Smith Rowe made his first start fir the Gunners in 499 days in the 1-0 win over Brentford in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday after a frustrating 2022-23 season which saw him feature for just 195 minutes in 14 substitute appearances.
Havertz joined Arsenal in a £65m move from Chelsea in the summer and is yet to score or assist in nine appearances, with Arteta said to be pushing hard to get the deal over the line.
Smith Rowe’s return is being managed carefully by Arsenal, who want to avoid the midfielder picking up further injury, but Darren Bent is “annoyed” by Arteta’s claim that the 23-year-old needs to prove himself at Premier League level.
“I don’t get it, and Arteta came out with something the other day and it actually quite annoyed me when he said that it’s up to Smith Rowe to prove he can play at this level. What?” Bent said on talkSPORT. “It’s almost like Arteta has got a bit of a short memory. Listen, I love Arteta as a manager, but it was back to the 2021/22 season I think it was where his job was on the line.
“He was struggling a bit and who were the two that carried him through? [Bukayo] Saka and Smith Rowe, he got 10 Premier League goals that season. Then the following season he had injuries and he’s been injury-hit ever since but the fact to say, to see if he can play at this level, that’s just crazy. I think if you’re asking me who I would rather play, Havertz or Smith Rowe, Smith Rowe every day of the week.”
After the win over Brentford, Arteta said Smith Rowe is still working his way back to full fitness.
“Physically, he’s still not there to play 90 minutes, we have to bear in mind that we have four or five players in that field and that was big concern for us today in the line up because we have seven at Colney that are not fit now,” Arteta said. “We had to manage his minutes. His load has seen a big spike in the last two weeks as well, and he was struggling to finish the game, the same with Reiss [Nelson].”