Is Emile Smith Rowe Overrated?
The Arsenal academy graduate is highly thought of but does his output match how he is rated among Arsenal fans? Let's investigate.
This might not be a popular post, but I do think it is a post that needs to be written.
Emile Smith Rowe is a popular player among fans, he is after all a Hale End graduate, he was Arsenal’s leading goal scorer last season, and is part of a popular song. This season he hasn’t played often this season due to an injury and I think that has also boosted the memory of last season making it more rosey than what it actually is.
This I think is part of how he has moved from an exciting young prospect into perhaps a player whose impact for the future has grown out of proportion to what his past performance has indicated is probable.
When you look at his metrics from last season, they are pretty good but I think are a far cry from something that justifies how people now talk about it in the sense of a “breakout” type season. This season it seems like with less playing time (with numerous excuses and justifications for why he hasn’t been able to make a bigger impact this season) his stature seems to have grown rather than shrank, seeming to benefit a bit from the backup quarterback phenomenon (where actually not playing and having a players struggles in the front of your mind makes them look better).
Looking at a longer-term horizon going back to 2019-20 with Arsenal in all competitions it is even less impressive with most of his metrics landing around the median for attacking midfielders.
I want this to be as fair as possible and not cherry pick things to be accused of making him look less good than he could be so let’s also look at the period when he started the most matches for Arsenal, the period of Boxing Day 2020 to December last season where he made 31 starts (essentially a full season’s worth of data) and played in a team that was pretty good from a points won perspective.
The numbers still here at his peak of playing time look hard to describe as anything other than just pretty good. The headline numbers on his goals plus assists look good at 0.5 per solid but they are not backed up by the shots and key passes (1.3 shots plus key passes per 90) nor the expected goals numbers where he is at 0.35 xG plus xA. That leads nicely into the next section.
The main thing that seems to drive the rosey remembrance of his performance last season is driven by the idea that he was Arsena'l’s leading goal scorer. I think that seems to give him a real boost even if his total of 10 goals would not come close to a repeat of last season where his 10 goals would tie him with Gabriel Jesus for 4th best on this team.
Smith Rowe scored ten goals last season but it was from nearly double his xG (from my model, Opta has him at 6.0 and 5.6 from StatsBomb). The majority of his shots come from good locations but he doesn’t have a massive amount of ‘big’ chances with lots of chances with medium quality and a few goals from long range.
For his Arsenal career, he is well above his xG of just below 7, scoring 13 goals. It is possible that Smith Rowe is an amazing finisher but with less than 100 shots in his sample it is really hard to say with a lot of confidence that we should expect this to continue, and should probably not expect him to be over 40% above his expected goals going forward.
He’s a tweener
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