Yes, it was only a 19-minute cameo. Yes, it was a meaningless preseason friendly. No, he didn’t score any goals. However, Emile Smith Rowe, fresh of a triumphant turn with the England u21s, looked alert and lively as he skipped past Man U defenders (when they weren’t hauling him down or kicking out at him). He’s still working his way back from the groin injury that hindered him through the 2021-22 campaign and the surgery that waylaid him for most of the 22-23 campaign, but the early returns from that cameo suggest he’s close to being back in a major way.
There’s a certain German signing who might have watched Smith Rowe’s performance against Man U with more than a few misgivings. For as incisive as he was in 2021-22, when he scored 10 goals and added two assists, Smith Rowe was playing through pain. I’ve had questions about Arteta’s management of Smith Rowe’s reintroduction to the squad after the surgery, when it seemed like having Smith Rowe sit on the bench or play just five or ten minutes wouldn’t accomplish much, but the cautious slow-walk might be preferable to Wenger’s preference for trusting players to decide when they were ready to return, and certainly preferable to Emery’s decision to rush players back, in both cases leading to other injuries or setbacks.
At any rate, Smith Rowe was back to his free-flowing self, skipping past defenders, finding space between the lines, bursting forward with intent… if he can build on this short cameo, Havertz may have to consider competing for time at other positions because, on balance, Smith Rowe might just be the better player.
Think back to the breakout season he had in 2021-22. Remind yourself that the groin injury hindered his play, and he still found a way to go for 10 league goals. What could he do now that he’s free of that injury and playing his way back to full fitness? If there’s any saving grace for Havertz, it’s that Smith Rowe is probably still a ways away from playing full 90s or playing twice a week. They’ll have to share minutes.That competition should bring out the best in both to the entire squad’s benefit. Smith Rowe is a hungry, all-action attacker. He might wear the number 10, but he plays like an 8—think of a box-to-box midfielder similar to Aaron Ramsey but quicker and better with the ball at his feet.
I was going to suggest that Ramsey is a bigger, more-physical player, but Smith Rowe is actually taller and (now) stronger than Ramsey was in his heyday. I’ll backpedal a bit to remind myself and you that we’re talking about 19 minutes in a preseason friendly—then again, these are the first serious minutes Smith Rowe has seen at this level since March 2023 when he played 47 minutes against Bournemouth. If you think he looked good against Man U on Saturday, wait until September of October when he’s had some time to play through the cobwebs and find his fitness again. It’s been a few years since he was fully fit, after all.
It’s not going out on a limb for me to predict that the upcoming season could be a big one for the Smith. One might almost say he’s set the hit the ground running, both literally and figuratively. Bolder prediction? 15 goals, 5 assists. What’s your prediction for his production? Maybe I’ll offer a £25 gift card to Arsenal Direct to the most-accurate prediction…