Emile Smith Rowe says he’s been wrestling with self doubt during his prolonged spell on the sidelines but he says he’s now in a good place having returned to full fitness.
Having struggled with a long-term groin issue, the England international took the difficult decision to undergo surgery this time last year and had been hoping to make a big impact in the second half of the season
While his road to recovery was initially on track – he featured as a substitute in January’s FA Cup 3rd Round win over Oxford United – a couple of setbacks subsequently led to a loss of confidence and he struggled to get back in the team.
Last night against Brentford, he made his first start for the club in 499 days; an 82-minute appearance that marked his 100th for the club. He looked lively too, going close to a goal in the first half as the Gunners secured their place in the next round thanks to a one-nil win.
After the game, Smith Rowe reflected on his return and the difficulties he overcame.
“I have changed my mentality a bit: just to go for it,” he told reporters. “I have not really got anything to lose.
“I have tried to change that inside me. I used to have a lot of doubts. I used to question my confidence at times. But now I am really strong, I am feeling really fit and I am taking that into now.
“I really believe in myself now. I have got all the right people around me helping me — my family, my friends and everyone at the club is always willing to help every day in training and off the pitch. I have just got to keep going, keep believing, and I am sure the chances will come.
“It was a really tough period — having surgery for the first time and then having another setback once I got back on to the pitch. But this is football, you have got to face these challenges, you have ups and downs. I feel like I am a lot stronger and fitter now.”
Smith Rowe’s next challenge is to push for more game time in the Premier League. A regular two seasons ago, he’s had to feed off scraps for six months at a time when Mikel Arteta’s side have been flying.
He also faces stiffer competition for places with captain Martin Odegaard preferred as the key creative outlet and the likes of Gabriel Martinelli, Leandro Trossard and Kai Havertz offering options on the left side of midfield and the left flank.
“Being at a massive club like Arsenal, we know there is so much competition,” he said.
“It is always going to be challenging, it is always going to be difficult to cement your place in the team. I have just got to keep believing in myself.
“Coming back and not quite getting back into the team, I have had to stay strong in my head and try to stay as positive as I can.
“I think the gaffer has really helped me with that. He was helping me through my injury and often pulled me for chats about how I can be mentally stronger, stuff like that.”