Mikel Arteta is hoping Emile Smith Rowe can “jump on the train fast” as he gears up for a return to first team action.
So influential for the Gunners in 2021, the England international endured a horrible 2022 as he struggled with a persistent groin injury that eventually required surgery in September. Closing in on full fitness, it’s hoped 2023 will be much better for the 22-year-old.
Having only played 47 minutes of football this season, Smith Rowe will feel like a new signing heading into the second half of the campaign and is expected to provide competition to Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard and to be an option as a false nine.
“He knows that he has the space in the squad to fulfil his potential,” said Arteta ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Oxford United.
“We really like him, I really like him, and he is a very important player for us.
“He knows that now he needs to jump on the train fast enough to have the impact that we all hope that he can have this season.
“He can play as a left attacking midfielder, on the right, he can play off the left as well. Those qualities within those units on the outside is something that he compliments really well with. We will exploit that.”
Smith Rowe has previous when it comes to making an impact after Christmas. His breakthrough moment with the Gunners came on Boxing Day 2020 when he starred in a 3-1 win over Chelsea and he went on to feature in all but five matches during the rest of the season as he consolidated his status as a first team player.
Clearly, we’re all hoping he can get back to his best but there’s also a sense we may need to be patient knowing the recovery process after surgery isn’t necessarily linear.
“I think we have been pretty cautious in the past month or so, in terms of how we have progressed him in training.” noted Arteta.
“And again you have to throw him out there and he needs to be able to observe the minutes, and that is why we have probably extended his preparation a little bit.”