Smith Rowe’s England U21 display creates dilemma for Arteta as Arsenal seek Xhaka replacement

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When the England squad was announced, possibly one of the biggest shocks was that there was no place in it for Emile Smith Rowe.

The 21-year-old has had a largely fantastic few weeks, helping change the game against Norwich, getting a goal and an assist against Tottenham and producing a man-of-the-match display against Brighton where many of his Arsenal teammates faltered.

As it was, Smith Rowe was again called up to Lee Carsley’s under-21 squad where the youngster played the full 90 minutes of their Euros qualifying draw against Slovenia.

His performance in the match will have been of particular interest to Mikel Arteta.

Smith Rowe was recently handed the No. 10 shirt at the Emirates, meaning many would regard him as needing to operate centrally.

However, some of his best performances have come when he has played on the left, which was again the case against Slovenia at the Arena Petrol.

Time and again the 21-year-old’s exciting dribbling ability saw him get down the edge of the box to create chances for his teammates.

This screenshot below in which the Hale Ender (on the left edge of the box in blue)’s dribble and subsequent cross created a golden chance for Connor Gallagher (to the right of the penalty box) from which the Crystal Palace midfielder really should have had his second goal of the game.



Emile Smith Rowe in action for England U21s
Emile Smith Rowe in action for England U21s

Rather than looking to progress the ball up the pitch through passing, Smith Rowe is someone who looks to get towards the opposition goal by carrying it.

It is for this reason that he ranks in the 93rd percentile for carries into the final third in the Premier League this season but just the 57th for passes into it (as per fbRef).

The 21-year-old has a Houdini-like ability to squirm away from seemingly inescapable scenarios by jinking away from his markers.

Even so, he can only go past so many people, and the Hale Ender is played at No.10 where he can occasionally end up stopped in the congestion of the central areas of the pitch.

With this in mind, it feels as though the obvious position for him to play will when he returns to Arsenal for their fixture against Crystal Palace will be on the left wing.

However, Arteta’s potential formation switch could change this.

Granit Xhaka’s absence changes the entire way in which the Gunners midfield have to set up.

With him in the side they have to play a 4-2-3-1, due the Swiss international’s inability to operate well in a midfield three, but in his absence due to suspension earlier this season Arteta opted to field his side in a 4-3-3.

In this formation Bukayo Saka was played on the left wing, with Smith Rowe as the right sided ‘free eight’, while Martin Odegaard would drop slightly deeper to replicate the role usually played by Xhaka of progressing the ball by passing from the defensive left half spaces.

If Arsenal do go back to the three man midfield to cope with their number 34’s absence, then it would seem Arteta will have to tweak the set up slightly so as to get Smith Rowe playing in his best position.

In fairness, there’s a possibility that Arsenal won’t go for a 4-3-3 at all.

In their first match since Xhaka’s three-month injury layoff was confirmed, the Gunners set up in a 4-2-3-1 against Brighton, with Albert Sambi Lokonga playing in the double pivot alongside Thomas Partey.

However, the Belgian struggled slightly to get a foothold in the game and by Arteta’s own admission, Arsenal struggled to establish control at any point as a result.

With this in mind, a home game against an opposition that they will be expected to beat seems like the perfect time for the Gunners to reassert their ability to dominate games by going for a 4-3-3.

But if this is what Arteta decides upon, changes will have to be made to ensure one of his brightest talents is able to perform at his highest level.

Source by Football London

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