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Exit interviews: Emile Smith Rowe
The academy product isn’t getting regular time lately. What’s next?
Exit Interviews is a series where Scott and Adam share their opinions on next steps for select Arsenal players. The series will run through early June.
The last time the subject of an Emile Smith Rowe transfer came up, Arsenal fans practically laughed Aston Villa’s £30 million offer away. The Hale End graduate was Arsenal’s leading goal scorer last season, but lost his job to Gabriel Martinelli mid-season and hasn’t followed the likes of Bukayo Saka, Martinelli and Martin Ødegaard forward into leading roles this season.
With The Smith largely an afterthought on Mikel Arteta’s bench down the stretch, what comes next?
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Adam: This is a tough one. Smith Rowe is a fan favorite for a reason. He led the club in goals last season, but nerds like Scott and I would be quick to tell you, even amid the flurry, that there were signs it was a purple patch.
His production fell off a cliff once the calendar turned to 2022, whether that was due to injury, fitness or other factors is anyone’s guess.
As of the end of this season, Smith Rowe’s rehab is done, he’s been back on the bench every game for months and he still barely gets a sniff of real action.
My theory has long been one with two main prongs: The first, I think, is that his profile is a tough fit for Arteta’s preferred style of play. On the wing, Martinelli, Reiss Nelson and Leandro Trossard are more threatening options. In the midfield, he’s nowhere near Granit Xhaka. He’s an excellent ball carrier but struggles with pressing, positioning off the ball and duels. And of course he’s got no chance of taking Ødegaard minutes, as he simply doesn’t have the final ball, let alone because of the captain’s importance to the side.
The Xhaka backup minutes might be the best shot ESR was going to get at regular time this season, but Arteta has consistently chosen to play Fabio Vieira out of position there instead, much to the dismay of some.
Reports have said Arteta plays Fabio first in part because of the cost to sign him, but my second theoretical prong also comes in here: I think something is wrong behind the scenes. I don’t know if it’s Arteta’s fault or Emile’s, whether it’s a fitness thing or an attitude issue, but it’s been clear the manager and player aren’t on the same page lately.
As we hit the summer, more bad omens are coming up for Smith Rowe. Despite reports that he was being groomed for Granit Xhaka’s role, Arsenal are being very credibly linked to direct competitors for those minutes like Mason Mount and Mohammed Kudus. And there’s a possibility that main event Declan Rice is also expected to play some there, allowing Thomas Partey to play consistently as well. Personally, I’d find it stranger for Arteta not to be getting ESR some on-the-job training there, were the grooming reports true.
So what do you do here? My take is to let the market decide. If you don’t get the offer you’d like, maybe you do hold him one more season and hope he rises to the occasion. He does, after all, have time left on his contract. But if a good offer comes in…
Verdict: Sell for £25-30 million.
This might be counter-intuitive after all my downplaying the hype of Smith Rowe but I am not ready to give up on him quite yet.
That being said, I 100 percent stand by the view that I think he is a player that the fan view is out of line with what the player actually brings to the table. Most of that goes to him scoring more goals than expected but not really having a role that naturally fits with Arsenal.
I think that leads to the obvious question of why I actually want to keep him then?
I think this comes down to a couple of things, selling now is probably selling with a discount to what he could become and I am not certain that Arsenal are in a spot where they are so desperate to sell that is needed. If a big offer (say 45m+) comes in I would change my stance but if we are in the ballpark of 25m I don’t think that moves the needle for Arsenal and the current depth chart.
Second is that when you look at the depth chart for attacking depth it still feels a little short:
It already feels like the list of outgoings is pretty large and adding another player to be replaced is a big ask when the shopping for the list includes at least 3 starting caliber players, plus 1-2 more that would be more rotation/backup types.
I am not putting my expectation on Smith Rowe to make an impact but there is still the talent there, that he could do it. I wouldn’t auto refuse offers and I would be interested if a biding war opened and the price rose but I think ultimately the piece of mind of him on the bench feels more valuable than a cut-rate transfer fee (even if ends up being a situation where the team held on to a player too long and will be used to beat Edu with).
Scott’s verdict: Keep, and re-evaluate in the winter