In 2017, England’s U17s won the World Cup. Emile Smith Rowe was in the squad, along with the likes of Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden and Calum Hudson-Odoi.
The Arsenal man’s career hasn’t quite taken off in the same way as his contemporaries yet, but his emergence this season has been a real light in the darkness, and he played a significant part in the recent turnaround with three wins on the trot.
He’s a player Mikel Arteta was asked about ahead of this weekend’s FA Cup clash with Newcastle, and while he acknowledged his compatriots were a little further down the line in their careers, the 20 year has got what it takes to match their achievements.
“He has a huge potential,” said the manager. “He really wants it and he has the personality when he goes on the field to express himself and play the way he can play.
To do it in a consistent way is a different thing, the boys that you mentioned [Sancho, Foden], they’ve done it.
“It’s true that they are ahead in their development phase because they’ve played many more minutes and games in the last two season but he’s capable of doing that.
“Whether he’s going to do it will depend on how he continues to develop, how he takes the chances that he has in front of him and then how much we can help him to achieve that.”
Smith Rowe’s brave display against Chelsea, his first Premier League start of the season and only the second of his career, highlighted his quality, and Arteta wasn’t surprised by the level of performance.
“I expected what I wanted for that game, and that’s it,” he said.
“You have question marks, of course because he hasn’t done it at that level and in that calibre of a game.
“But you see the potential and I, and the coaching staff, really liked what we had been saying so we decided to make the decision and it worked.
“He earned the right to play the next game [against Brighton] and he did it again and he earned the right to play the following game [against West Brom].
“I think we have to go game-by-game in general. I think with individuals and young talent, even more so.
“Sometimes you need to give them a little bit of a breather and protect them like we had to do with Gabri [Martinelli].
“He didn’t play for seven months and he could not play three games in a row in seven days, it was too much for him.”
Arteta is tipped to rotate his squad for the cup tomorrow, and it might well be a sign of how well Smith Rowe has done that he might sit this one out to make sure he’s ready for the clash with Crystal Palace next Thursday.