Emile Smith-Rowe The In-House Replacement for Aaron Ramsey
Aaron Ramsey has never been far from drama this season – first he was going to sign a contract (he didn’t), then the contract offer was taken away (apparently by the club), before it hit the papers that he rejected it because he wanted parity with Mesut Özil’s wages before media then decided he actually just wanted wages in the Mkhitaryan ballpark.
First Emery didn’t play him because of contract issues, then because of poor form, then because he didn’t fit his system and finally because he didn’t like playing a box to box midfielder that runs into space instead of playing into space…
Eventually, it was Juventus that secured his signature that will reportedly be second only to Ronaldo’s contract in Turin. Juventus legend Franco Baresi has hailed our Welshman and is quoted as saying:
“I’ve seen him play. He’s obviously a great player.”
“I think Juve has really landed a great coup there and I’m sure he’ll be able to adapt to Italian football.”
Earning The Respect Of The Emirates
Ramsey has enjoyed every possible headline to question his intentions and motivations but among it, he stayed silent and with his head down – he played for Arsenal in the same fearless nature we’ve come to expect from him in his 11-year tenure here.
He’s been a part of one of our best goals of the season when he started and finished a ravaging counter-attacking move against Fulham last October.
Ramsey has proven huge in a number of impressive Arsenal performance’s this season, too. He came off the bench versus Tottenham to run the gaps in their back-line to death when he played them at home in December, picking up 2 assists in 45 minutes on the pitch.
He started the reverse fixture and expertly rounded Hugo Lloris to score in what ended as a contentious 1-1 draw. You can also look at his performance against Chelsea in January where he shackled Jorginho with incredible intensity.
Even in our most recent game, he showed his worth. Dropping deeper into a central midfield berth alongside Granit Xhaka to help mastermind a 2-0 victory in a game that was probably our biggest of the season so far.
Who’s In Line To Replace Rambo?
A lot of names are being thrown around, the likes of Cagliari’s Nicolò Barella, AC Milan’s Franck Kessié, Eibar’s Joan Jordan and Lyon’s Houssem Aouar have all been linked among many others but although Ramsey’s huge ability, I don’t believe this is a player Arsenal need to spend huge money to replace.
Ramsey has come clutch in big games but has still only managed only 12 starts in the league this season. The majority of these performances have come as a #10 but he’s also played as a central midfielder in both a 2 and a 3 and as a right midfielder in a 4-4-2.
Although this shows Ramsey’s fantastic versatility it’s also shown that he hasn’t been able to nail down a specific position under Emery, let alone nailing down a starting position in the team sheet.
His most prominent position as a #10 boasts the likes of Mesut Özil, who has seemed to work his way back into Unai Emery’s plans over the last month.
In addition to him, we have players like Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi who can both play in that role if needed and in a lot of games, Emery has opted to not play with a #10 at all, instead preferring to prioritise formations that fill the winger and centre-midfield positions.
In Ramsey’s other position as a central midfielder, we have the likes of Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi in the first team frame and that’s not including Mohammed Elneny who has been a largely unused figure this season because of the form of the aforementioned three.
Trust In Hale End’s Wonderkid
The player I’d like to make the biggest case for would be to use a Hale End academy product in the form of Emile Smith-Rowe.
Smith-Rowe made his debut for the u23 team in 2017/18 at just 16 years of age, going onto make 11 appearances for them and making headlines with clips of some incredible shooting and dribbling going viral.
At the start of this season, he was called to Arsenal’s tour of Singapore by our then new coach Unai Emery and started in a friendly versus Atletico Madrid as a central-midfielder in a 4-3-3. He went on to once again score a fantastic goal, jinking past Atletico defenders around the edge of their box before curling an effort into the top right-hand corner.
On his 18th birthday, he also played against PSG on the same tour, picking up an assist. Emery praised his potential as he went on to sign a long-term 5-year contract.
Smith-Rowe’s competitive debut came when he replaced Alex Iwobi in a Europa League tie against Vorskla and became the first player born in the 2000s to make his Arsenal debut.
He then started our next Europa League match against Quarabag – a match he played left wing in and scored his first competitive goal for Arsenal. What was more impressive than the goal was how in tune he always seemed with the experienced quality around him. Where some youngsters would feel the pressure he played like a player with much more experience.
English Kid’s Abroad
Smith-Rowe is currently on loan at RB Leipzig in the German Bundesliga although a groin injury has prevented him from making his debut so far. It has become something of a trend for promising English youth to look at Germany for playing time.
Everton’s Ademola Lookman joined RB Leipzig for the remainder of the last season in January and went onto scoring 5 goals in 11 games.
Jadon Sancho’s rise from the obscurity of the Manchester City youth team to full-blown England International with Dortmund has put him on the map of every big club in world football and we’ve also seen Reiss Nelson go on loan to Hoffenheim in an attempt to give him playing time that will prepare him for the Arsenal first team.
What Can He Bring To The Gunners?
Emile Smith-Rowe has been likened to Kevin De Bruyne over the last 12 months because of his fantastic technical ability to strike the ball both in terms of shooting and in terms of passing ability. Smith-Rowe is also a powerful runner with quick feet that can drive into congested areas.
The fact he has played under Emery as a left winger, central midfielder and #10 shows a versatility tactically that is rare in a player so young. I don’t think it’s out of the question that Emery could seek to bring him in next season as a legitimate member of the squad and that he would rise to the level required unexpectedly in a similar fashion to Guendouzi this season.
What Are The Real Priorities?
This summer is huge for us and the calibre of players we’ll be looking at will depend on whether or not we secure Champion’s League but our budget will not be to the level we’d like and we’re likely to be outspent by City, Liverpool and United in the summer (possibly Chelsea too if they’re able to secure an appeal to their transfer ban).
This means the club will have to decide which areas we need investment and which areas we can solve with internal options.
Reports suggest Arsenal are looking for a winger, a left back and a centre-back and I think it’s these areas that the bulk of any budget should be focused towards. Quality wingers are becoming an increasingly expensive premium.
It seemed for a long time that our main target was Lille’s Nicolas Pépé but if reports are to be believed it seems he’ll be wearing the red of Bayern Munich instead of Arsenal next season.
Once these three positions are filled with players that add to the quality of the squad it will allow the returning youth players like Emile Smith-Rowe and Reiss Nelson a great environment to be slowly integrated into the first team. Both have undoubted quality and I’d be very surprised if we didn’t see both of them in the first team squad next season.