Mikel Arteta has revealed that Emile Smith Rowe hasn’t been starting games in the last few weeks because the player hasn’t been fully fit
The England international started 13 of Arsenal’s opening 14 Premier League games this season but has only played 63 minutes of the last six games since the start of December when he scored in the 3-2 defeat to Manchester United.
That’s not to say the midfielder hasn’t made his presence felt over the festive period. Goals in consecutive league games against West Ham, Leeds and Norwich helped add a late gloss to vital wins and further underlined the player’s importance to the team despite teammates starting ahead of him.
Asked about how Smith Rowe has reacted to less game time, Arteta explained: “Well the main reason (behind) that was because he wasn’t completely fit to play.
“He’s been carrying an issue, and that hasn’t allowed him to train regularly, to play regularly, and that was the main reason. Because in his performances, and what he did before that international break – there is no question that he was one of our more important and consistent players.
“The only reason that changed the dynamic was that – and obviously now that the team (has been) doing well, there are other players who are doing well, and have been performing well. That changed the situation, but I am very happy with him.”
That Smith Rowe might have to go head-to-head with Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli to get his place back is certainly not something that is concerning the boss. Quite the opposite, in fact.
“This is why we need that [competition], we raise the level. Each player raises the level of the player next to him, and this is how you evolve as a team. How you create a culture around the team, that when I get the opportunity I have to grab it.
“That a statement should be done on the pitch, and not talking or making comments, and when you have the opportunity, grab it. Then show how good you are, and then if you do that you continue playing.”
Arteta had earlier revealed that due to injuries, Covid-19 and Arsenal’s African contingent being away on international duty, that he’s short of numbers at the moment. With that in mind, it seems very likely that Smith Rowe (if fit) will feature against Nottingham Forest on Sunday.