Mikel Arteta says he’s very happy with the way Emile Smith Rowe has developed this season but he’s aware that Arsenal will only get the best from the midfielder if he’s fully fit.
The Gunners have been treating the 22-year-old with kid-gloves since he picked up a groin problem against Manchester United in early December and the boss is acutely aware of the England international suffering a setback that could have long-term consequences.
After a blistering start to the season, Smith Rowe has started just one game in 41 days and has had to make do with making his presence felt off the bench. His absence from Sunday’s defeat to Nottingham Forest suggests he’s still not over the issue and it remains to be seen if he’ll be available for tomorrow’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg with Liverpool.
“The reason why that happened is because he wasn’t fit,” replied Arteta when asked why one of his best players has been confined to a bit-part role in recent weeks.
He added: “There was nothing else. His performances, when he’s been fit, have been extraordinary, the way he’s evolving, with the importance that he has in the team.
“I think it’s without a doubt really, really positive, but he’s had an issue that he’s been carrying and obviously that’s been affecting his ability to train, his ability to compete, the amount of minutes that we can give him and we are trying to get that situation resolved as quickly as possible, because we need the best version of Emile for us to be successful.”
Having called on the player to make some lifestyle changes to aid his development – revealed by Smith Rowe to be on the nutrition and hydration front – Arteta believes the benefits speak for themselves.
The next challenge is to maintain good habits and his form under much greater scrutiny from the fans and media.
“The moment that you have more exposure, media-wise, expectation-wise, you play with the national team, you go with the national team and you score, you’re scoring frequently, then the demands, the load, the stress, everything is higher and you have to cope with that.
“People think it’s naturally easy to do and it’s not that easy to do, and then you have to start to think that I’m going to be playing 60/70 games, playing pain-free, it just doesn’t happen in elite sport and you have to start to live with that.”