Emile Smith Rowe must be pinching himself today.
He’s only 18-years-old and after years working his way through Arsenal’s Academy ranks, he’s scored for the first team, earned plaudits from his coach and been plastered on the back pages of the national press.
It’s a lot to take in and in turn heaps on the pressure. With expectations raised, every performance from now on will be under the microscope. On the plus side, the midfielder is enjoying his football and says he’s buoyed by the encouragement of the club’s established pros including Mesut Ozil, a guy who broke through the ranks at Schalke at a similar age.
“Obviously it is something I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid, scoring my first goal for the club. I scored in pre-season but last night it felt so different and I am just so happy.
“I am really enjoying it. I was enjoying it before but I am getting chances and I am so grateful that the gaffer has got faith in me. I just want to keep improving and keep getting minutes.”
Judging by the words of those who’ve spent time with him, he’s a humble kid; an introvert in a world of big personalities. It’s something that Emery touched on last night when asked what most impressed him about the teenager.
The respect between coach and player certainly seems to be mutual.
“Unai has been a real big help to me personally because he is always talking to me after training,” added Smith Rowe.
“And as a team, he is always telling us, having a lot of meetings after training and even before matches. I think it’s really good for the team.
“[Fighting for a place] was a chance I took and I am happy I have taken it because now he is really happy with me, he helps me a lot and to get the chances I am getting now is crazy. There’s no other place I’d rather be.
“When I first started training with them the team, players like Welbeck, Lacazette were so welcoming. Everyone is helping me, everyone is giving me advice and I couldn’t really mention anyone now because everyone has been so welcoming. It is like a big family.
“Every player has told me you’ve got so much ability, so much quality just keep focused and keep working hard. To get that off world class players – even Mesut Ozil has told me that before and Aubameyang as well – is just unbelievable.”
Amazingly, Smith Rowe has not actually been in the Arsenal first team dressing room at London Colney. While he may have made appearances in the Europa League and Carabao Cup competitions he’s still deemed a member of Freddie Ljungberg’s under-23s who have their own area.
“I change separately, find out about ten minutes before [training starts], just run over and train,” Smith Rowe he told The Times (£).
“I am not actually in the changing room at the training ground. I haven’t actually properly seen the room. It’s not far away but we don’t really go around there, we are not really allowed in that building.
“I train every day with them [the first team] so it is good. But when I come to games, I look around and can’t believe I’m here. It is still surreal.”