Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Arteta: Smith Rowe can play as a nine

Given Arsenal’s paucity of options in attack, it wasn’t hugely surprising to hear reports last week that Gabriel Martinelli is being tested out as a number 9 in training.

Now that the Brazilian is free from suspension, it’ll be interesting to see if he’s handed a chance to shine in a central role against Wolves on Thursday.

Intriguingly, Mikel Arteta has hinted that Emile Smith Rowe is another option in attack.

After watching the England international score his tenth goal of the season at the weekend, the boss said: “I think he can play in four positions.

“As a left winger, a left attacking midfielder, a right attacking midfielder and he can play as a nine, very, very well.”

It’s unclear whether Arteta means as traditional number 9 (it seems unlikely given Smith Rowe isn’t blessed with the height of a target man) or as a ‘false nine’ – the position made famous by Johan Cruyff at Ajax and Lionel Messi at Barcelona.

We can certainly see the 21-year-old playing the latter, much like Roberto Firmino does at Liverpool and Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan do at Manchester City.

Like those mentioned above, Smith Rowe has the technical quality to receive the ball between the lines, the guile to dribble out of tight spaces and the pace you need to get back into the box once you’ve helped join up play.

Whether Arteta decides to experiment will likely depend on Alex Lacazette’s form. While the Frenchman is obviously a more physical presence in attack, his lack of mobility and goals, not to mention his contract situation, means he’s far from untouchable.

It’s one to watch in the coming weeks, especially with Smith Rowe pressuring Arteta for more game time following a spell nursing a calf problem.

“He lets you know if he’s not happy but he stepped on that training pitch ready every single day,” noted the Spaniard.

“First of all he was injured and when he came back he was not feeling at his best and we were gambling with an injury. He understood that the team were doing well. This is the competition you have to face.

“He did what he had to do. He worked harder and his performance against Brentford was excellent and a consequence of his preparation. He is a good character and a joy to have around.”

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not something I had considered but makes sense for him to be able to be a false 9.

strange how mikel wanted SPECIFIC players for SPECIFIC roles before, and now it seems he has players who can play 3 positions!

Gabi, Saka, ESR, Odegaard, Tavares, Tomi and white can all play in at least 2 positions!

Top Tier-ney

I don’t see how being a versatile player capable of playing in more than one position is something that disqualifies you from specializing in developing a certain skillset needed for a particular role to a great extent.

Yes, it takes a quality player, but if anything, adding to your game so that you’re better in one role only helps you function even better in a bit of a different role too, more feathers in your cap and all…


Didn’t he previously try him as false nine against Villareal when they knocked us out of the Europa semifinal last season. Appreciate we will have to get creative for the run in and everyone will have to pitch in and play wherever they’re needed. But with that being said, I hope Mikel isn’t forecasting here as I don’t want us to go all Man City and play without a recognised striker, personally I don’t like it, and I don’t think its optimal in the long run. In the summer we have to be bringing in a decent striker and another… Read more »


What about Ramsdale, maybe he can play as a striker as well?


Saw him in training video knocking in one-timers to the top corners from the top of the box. Looks like you could count on him in a shootout.


This is because, in modern football especially, roles =/= position.

Mikel has been consistent in wanting certain types of player, but that by no means relates to traditional positions. As we are getting the right sort of player, and having them develop through the season, our play has improved, especially in the buildup.

A Different George

I actually don’t think that is what Arteta meant when he emphasised “specificity.” I think he was talking about a certain style of play rather than having each player in a limited role. For example, he wanted centre halves comfortable on the ball, willing to play out. He wanted “midfielders” like some of the ones at Man City that Andrew mentioned–Bernardo Silva, De Bruyne, Gundogan, even Mahrez, who are all capable not only of playing in different starting positions, but able to shift and interchange during the game.

Johnny 4 Hats

“Smith Rowe can play as a nine”.

This feels like a clue to a riddle you’ve been trying to figure out for ages and you finally turn to the riddle giver and go “Come on, help me out here” and he gives you the clue and you go “Ooooohhhhhhh”.

Jonny 5 hats

He is a man who can wear many hats


“saka and Emile Smith Rowe!”

Sak, Lac & Craic

The kid has proven this season that he scores goals.

To get him playing closer to the box would never be a bad thing.

Top Tier-ney

Exactly, I don’t see him connecting the lines or unlocking the whole back line with a line breaking pass as good as your classic no.10, say Odegaard for the sake of a simple comparison, anyway, but you get him going at a guy in a danger area, and boy oh boy, wondrous things often happen… so we might as well then put him in the thick of things, instead of further back and just facing it from a far.


We have definitely lacked the ability to cut through a packed defense for a bit, and we can all plainly see he has that in his skill set.

We also know Arteta doesn’t just big a player up without them giving him good reason to.

My only wonder about ESR in a false 9 is as stated above – losing the consistent, seasoned old pro physical pressure Laca provides.


Well given the thinness of the squad, it’s good to hear we have multi-talented players. Hey, they may even have to play more than one role in each game…

Mr November

A false 9 role where he rotates from LW to central with Martinelli could work. When he played there against Villarreal he wasn’t scoring goals consistently but now he is and he’s a much more developed player.

SLC Gooner

I would point out, relative to size, that he’s 3 inches taller than our current 9. Probably still needs to add some muscle, but seems like it should be considered.


Not a fan of false moves. But this is the best argument made for him playing up front. If he is to play there it needs to be as a 9, not a false 9.

Challah Baker Soldier Spy

The article saying he’s not tall enough to play as a CF is a bit silly (although I find it hard to believe ESR is his listed 6ft), there’s plenty of great strikers past and present who are under 6ft


I’d say he’s firstly an attacking midfielder or a 10. But if he’s foremost a midfielder, why not try him in those areas before the striker role. He’s not a natural winger either. Why not try him in central midfield, where we lack good back up.

Morrisey fan #1

Gotta get him closer to goal for ten obvious reasons!

Man Manny

Whatever we can do to keep out top 4 hopes alive is welcome.
But I would rather try Martinelli and Pepe in that role, in that order.


In theory yes. ESR would have to make a big leap in performance from the EL semi first leg at Villareal last April. When Mikel played him in a false 9 role — with Laca out and both Auba and Eddie on the bench. Pretty poor performance from our side all around.


Need to find a way to get Smith-Rowe, Martinelli, Oedgard and Saka in the lineup together. Only way to do that is to sacrifice one of Xhaka/Partey (not going to happen) or Lacazette and put Martinelli up top which would be my preference.


For that to work I think we’d absolutely need Martinelli on the left who runs in behind as ESR drops deep, otherwise we’d lack penetration. ESR is such a clever and adaptable player that I’m sure he could do a decent job of it, wether he’d be better than Lacazette I’m less sure of.


I love The Smith but I actually laughed loud at this


Xhaka CAN play as a left back, but doesn’t make it the right thing to do


When you say ESR isn’t blessed with the height of a target man, he is the same height as Alan Shearer and 3 inches taller than Lacazette. He is also our top scorer.


Is that right?! Weird how perceptions are. I know Laca is kinda stocky but I didn’t put ESR as being taller.

A Different George

Speaking of missing pieces, here is Busquets’, Barca’s captain, take on the situation after their new striker scored a hat trick:

“I hope Aubameyang is that one piece that we were missing up front. He is a great player that arrived hungry because he was not getting many opportunities at his last club. It is a luxury having him in our team.”

I don’t think we can blame anyone. Things happen. Good luck to Auba, hope we play against him in the Champions League final in a year or two.


There is no question about his quality but he didnt fit in the role that the team asked him to play.

Public Elneny

Good player imo

Stunning finish for his 3rd


Shows how much he’d totally given up at Arsenal.


Said on another piece on the site that Auba actually played with a smile on his face at the weekend, can’t remember the last time he did that for us. Just a shame the last memory for most fans will be him laughing at missing in the last minute at Goodison

Reiss Neverseen & El Dicteta

Who wouldn’t give up when our strikers have to drop into our own half just to be involved in play. If anything it shows how dire our chance creation from midfield is. Has Lacazette looked anymore prolific since Auba left?


We need not deal with fake 9s if our manager could deal with a real 9.


Thought it was a bit odd that Arteta omitted the no.10 position, maybe this implies that we will be moving to a 4-3-3 permanently. We’ve already seen it to an extent, with Ødegaard staying right-ish, Xhaka pushing high and Partey holding when we attack or press. But we look more like a 4-2-3-1in defence.

Public Elneny

As it stands ESR is probably our most likely source of goals – from the wing/attacking midfield. No need to risk giving that up by moving him to an unfamiliar position Most of his goals are a result of him running from deep – either carrying the ball/playing 1-2s, or ghosting in late for cut backs. He won’t be able to do that as often as a CF. I think the argument that by moving your best goalscorers further forward/more central you’ll score more goals is pretty flawed. Martinelli would be the one I’d try at CF, in rotation with… Read more »

Sir John King



Not a fan of this false nine business – and for those with short memories reaching for the downvote, Arteta played a false nine in a European Semi Final away leg last season. On a night when we needed goals we drew a blank and went on to lose the tie back at the Emirates. For me, Martinelli is the best bet up front until such a time that we (eventually) sign a (decent?) striker. ESR should stay primarily on the left wing, Saka in the right with Odegaard in the number 10 slot behind them. Pepe to run at… Read more »


*My bad – we scored in the away leg but drew a blank at home.


Blah blah blah. Just buy Haaland and get it over with!!


Don’t complicate things mate.

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