Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger gave senior debuts to seven youth players during the 2017/18 season. Highly-rated prospects such as Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, and Joe Willock were all given an opportunity to shine in front of the boss. Their big chance to prove themselves was undoubtedly boosted by the north London outfit being a part of the Europa League. The competition allowed Wenger to rest some of his bigger stars and opt to let some of the youngsters play.
With Wenger no longer at the helm and Unai Emery now in charge, it will be interesting to see how the former Paris Saint-Germain boss handles the youth setup going forward. While seeing an additional seven prospects given a shot this season is highly unlikely, there is one teen at the club that will almost certainly be given an opportunity to showcase their talent. That player is Emile Smith Rowe.
Smith Rowe is probably the most talented youth player at Arsenal without an official senior appearance. This, however, should change soon. Just 17-years-old, the attacking midfielder has shown some of his brilliance during U18 and U23 matches for the Gunners last season. He managed eight goals and three assists in 21 total appearances with the two youth setups during the 2017/18 campaign.
Able to play either centrally or on the flank, Smith Rowe told me earlier in the year that he does not have a preference and just wants to play. “I enjoy playing on the wing and in midfield,” he claimed. “I think the main thing I enjoy is being on the pitch. So I’ll try my best for the team wherever I get told to play.”
The soon-to-be 18-year-old is currently training with the first team squad in Singapore. The Gunners played Atletico Madrid on Thursday in Asia, and despite the Premier League team falling in penalties to the reigning Europa League champions, Smith Rowe scored an unbelievable goal to level the score at 1-1.
Following the impressive performance, Emery was supportive of the teenager. “This goal Smith scored was very good for him, for the team, but I think what’s important for us is that everyone, the young players and new players, were working very well today,” proclaimed the Spaniard.
Fellow teammate Hector Bellerin also heaped praise on the youngster. “It was a great goal,” said the defender. “I’ve been training with him for a long time now and he’s a bright young player. He has the right attitude, the right conditions to make it and it’s all about him keeping his head in the games, train the way he’s playing. I’m sure he’ll get his chance.”
Smith Rowe has trained with the big boys before, but being part of a preseason tour abroad is not only a wonderful experience, but it will also help Emery get to know the youngster a little better. After facing off against Atletico, Arsenal will end their southeast Asian excursion with a match against the aforementioned PSG on Saturday.
Though he will almost certainly spend a majority of his 2018/19 campaign with the U23s, Smith Rowe should gain some first team experience this year in both the Europa League and League Cup competitions. With former Arsenal legend Freddie Ljungberg coaching with the U23s, Smith Rowe can’t ask for a better person to learn from, both as an attacking player and a Gunner.
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