Gareth Southgate says he’s been keeping close tabs on Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka in recent months and labelled the pair “a breath of fresh air.”
The midfielders, both graduates of Arsenal’s Academy, have started 10 of the Gunners’ last 12 Premier League matches together bringing new energy to a side that seriously struggled in the league prior to Christmas.
Speaking to talkSPORT about the young talent at England’s disposal, Southgate highlighted that the pair’s progress should stand as an example to other clubs who often block the pathway to senior football with big-money signings.
“Emile Smith Rowe getting his opportunity at Arsenal,” he said. “We know those kids are there and we know the talent is there but when the buying and spending power of the clubs is greater than anything around Europe, and the pressure is on to have immediate success, it is easier to go and buy the finished product from abroad.
“There was always this blockage for young English players, now they’re getting their chance. Those two boys at Arsenal, Saka and Smith Rowe, have been a huge breath of fresh air in their team and there are more across the country if they get their opportunity.”
On how he goes about selecting his squad, Southgate added: “It is a case of who is playing the best, who do we think has the pedigree, who has performed at a high level before, coupled with who is in form and who fits into the way we want to play.
“The squad has to evolve all the time. If there is ever complacently that sets in then the young players have provided that competition and energy.
“You need experienced players who have got to those latter stages of tournaments, who are used to winning and have maybe won trophies with their clubs. We’ve got to get the balance right.”
A year ago, Saka had an outside shot at making England’s Euro 2020 squad. With four caps under his belt and producing consistently impressive football at Arsenal, he now looks a dead cert to be included by Southgate when the delayed tournament kicks-off this summer.
Assuming he’s not too badly injured, you’d imagine that Smith Rowe is in line for his first under-21 call-up when the Interlull kicks in later this month. A member of England’s under-17 World Cup-winning squad, he’s not yet had a chance past under-20 level.