Morning all and happy Friday to you. Not long now and we can stick a collective two fingers up to this disaster of a Premier League season. Can’t wait.
I don’t really want to look ahead too much at the Watford game because, frankly, it is of little consequence to me. So last night and this morning my mind started to wander off along in the direction of thinking about the clear and obvious lack of creativity that just about every Arsenal fan has been talking about this season. No more was that evident than against Aston Villa and as many of us have seen all season, when you don’t have a Mesut Ozil type creative player to connect midfield and attack, then you’re going to suffer.
Well, I say a ‘Mesut Ozil type player’, but we can all see that Mesut Ozil hasn’t been that player for some time, so it is abundantly clear that we need a new connector to step into his place. Willock doesn’t have the passing range to be that guy and whilst he gets into good positions in the box, he hasn’t had enough about him from a goalscoring perspective to solve a problem we have. Maitland-Niles is your classix ‘on paper’ guy. To me he should have it; he is strong, athletic, has pace, the right physicality, it feels like he has the energy that could cover ground, but have we really seen enough of his passing range to be that guy? Have we really seen enough of him carrying the ball in central areas?
The challenge with seeing him out wide is that you get much more space out wide and so carrying the ball is a little easier than it is through the middle. It’s statistics, right? I mean I don’t have the numbers but we all know that statistically the middle of the park is where teams view risk, which is why football has always been a sport where teams playing narrow and flooding the centre spine of the pitch reduces their risk. So many teams are happy to concede possession out wide and so when you have a ball carrier out wide who is good, it doesn’t mean they’ll thrive in the centre.
That’s also why I’m not sure if Saka is ‘the guy’ through the middle either. We can all see his talent; he can beat a man, he’s good with his crossing, he’s a goalscorer, so for me out wide is where we need him to be. But that still doesn’t solve our creative midfield issue and as we’ve also seen this season, Dani Ceballos doesn’t quite fit that mould, despite the fact he’s been impressive of late.
That’s why last night I started looking at Emile Smith Rowe and how he’s got on at Huddersfield. It turns out….quite well. I saw his message he put on Twitter about how much he’s enjoyed his loan spell and is happy to have helped play his part in them staying up. A good end to the season for him, I thought, but then I started to look at some of the responses because quite often the responses of people on Twitter will give you an indication on how he’s got on. And it’s clear to me that the Huddersfield fans loved him. I struggled to find anything remotely negative about him and amongst the praise were comments about fans just being glad that they could see him in the flesh and how great a future he’s got, about how he has been such an important part of their team and how he’s been integral in them staying up. Quite literally, in fact, as he got the winner in a 2-1 win over promoted West Brom at home last week.
I started doing a little more reading up on how he’s done and at the beginning of July there was another match report about how he bossed the game against Birmingham City. Huddersfield boss Danny Cowley has had high praise for him indeed and I’ve read a few articles where he talks about booing himself when Smith-Rowe is brought off as a sub, as well as the impact he’s had in between the lines and when Emile is fed the ball between the midfield and attack.
By all accounts this is sounding rather promising, eh? And I’m reminded of the loan spell Jack Wilshere had. They loved him at Bolton and he kicked on a gear, whereby the Bolton fans waxed lyrical before he came back to us and established himself as a first team regular the season after, which was also the season he had his seminal game against Barcelona in which he bossed the midfield with Cesc. If this loan has had the same impact on Smith Rowe then Arteta must surely be looking at him with a view that his Arsenal future in the first team is fast approaching.
But let’s not forget that he’s only just turned 20. As Saka’s performance against Villa showed, if he comes back to Arsenal next season and is in the squad fighting for a first team place, then he will have bouts of indifferent form. That’s understandable at such a young age and it’s important we don’t crucify him. But I also think it is important on Arsenal to do the right thing and not put too much pressure on him. If Ozil truly has no place next season – which looks the case at the moment – then we need more creativity being packed into our midfield options. Smith-Rowe will provide one option, but for 60 – 70% of the games next season we may need an established name to come in. If that happens and we can ease Smith-Rowe into a more regular starting slot, then in two to three year’s time we could have a superstar on our hands.
Catch you tomorrow.