Arsenal have had a really bumpy ride full of ups and downs under Mikel Arteta. They failed to qualify for any European competitions this season but had got some really good performances under the belt. Before signing Martin Odegaard on loan in January, Arsenal struggled to fill the number 10 position after the management fell out with Mesut Ozil. A 20-year-old, English midfielder named Emile Smith-Rowe walked through the academy ranks into the first team. With two goals and four assists in 20 matches in the league, Smith-Rowe cemented his place in the senior squad and certainly became a fan-favourite among the Gunners’ faithful.
This season again Arsenal had a lousy start but have recovered to their current position of 11th in the league with 10 points from seven matches. They are slowly trying to make a comeback and Emile Smith-Rowe has been one of the players in midst of that revamp. The youngster has dropped some great performances till now and has made the fans faith in him grow deeper.
Smith-Rowe kick-started his campaign with a stellar performance against arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the famous North London derby scoring the first goal and setting up the second in a 3-1 victory.
Naturally a left-winger, Smith-Rowe came into the team to fill in the number 10 spot. Since the arrival of Odegaard, he has been able to slot back into his favourite position as a winger. Comfortable playing with both feet equally, Emile started this season as a right-winger but had a lesser impact on this side. But once he started playing as a left-winger since gameweek 4, he has shown glimpses of his talent every now and then.
He has spent most of his time on the pitch near the wing as we can see in the above heat map(the red and orange areas). The midfielder has even dropped deep a lot of time to help out in defence and helped to carry the ball forward serving as a passing outlet to the defence. Smith-Rowe along with his fellow wing partner Bukayo Saka love to interchange their positions during the match confusing the opponent. The biggest example was against Spurs when he scored past Lloris after making a run through the middle but set up Aubameyang’s goal from a beautiful cut-back from the right side. Predominantly he loves to drift towards the left while playing but certainly can cause a lot of threat by moving freely throughout the attacking third in transition.
Playing on both flanks and dropping deep, he has played passes throughout the pitch. The majority of his passes have been near the attacking third, on the right trying to link up with the over-lapping full-back or Odegaard down the middle. Emile Smith-Rowe does not make a lot of passes in a match averaging 32 passes nearly per 90 along with 47 touches of the ball. But his accuracy and precision while playing the pass are second to none. He has recorded a passing accuracy of 92% from a total of 192 completed passes.
The biggest weapon of Emile Smith-Rowe has never been goal scoring or assisting. You will not find him dominating the score sheets very much but the way he remains heavily involved in every move Arsenal create is absolutely sensational. He is the creative head of the Arsenal attack, a playmaker and a total team player – players whom managers love to have in the squad. His vision and ability to pick a pass precisely is by far the best in the squad. The varied range of passing he provides – long balls, cross-field passes, through balls are an asset to Arsenal. Emile Smith-Rowe has an absolutely great ability to read the game, the pass he played to Aubameyang without even looking twice against Spurs shows how well he understands the certain positions where the players are going to make the runs. Still just 21 years old, he can develop into one of the best playmakers in the league and the world with time.
As he does not make a lot of passes he certainly ranks below the league median in the number of passes played in total, into the attacking third and in forward progression. But he does make the most of what he plays as he lies way ahead of the league median in terms of accuracy, ranking at 87th percentile for total accurate passes and 86th percentile for accurate attacking third passes. He makes a lot of progressive runs per 90 trying to stretch the opposition defence while ranking 89th percentile in the league. The stats prove time and again his vision and accuracy reminding us of a certain Andres Iniesta at times.
Emile Smith-Rowe is not a prolific goal scorer. He has scored only one goal and provided one assist so far this season. He has taken a total of nine shots, eight of them inside the box and once from distance. His conversion rate might not be eye-catchy but he has kept six shots on target showing his precision here as well, forcing the goalkeeper to work every time. His fake decoy runs into the box also helps to take away defenders for others to have a chance to shoot.
His positioning is another of the attributes that make him such a special talent. He is Mr. Right place at the right time and his 89th percentile rank from xG per shot proves the fact. Smith-Rowe has kept 55.56% of shots on target ranking in the 89th percentile in the league as well. He also has a higher rank from xG per 90 with 86th percentile among all.
Emile Smith-Rowe is definitely a budding talent with incredible potential. He has proved his worth at Arsenal very well and with a huge scope of improvement, he can be one of the best playmakers in the world.