The 18-year-old scored his first senior goal and impressed on his first European start for the Gunners – with plenty more to come
Emile Smith Rowe has been part of the Arsenal set up since the age of 10 and started to turn heads this summer after being called up for the Gunners’ pre-season tour of Singapore.
At 18 years old, academy graduate Smith Rowe signed his a new long-term contract following his impressive performances during pre-season, where he scored a superb strike against Atletico Madrid and recorded an assist against PSG in their International Champions Cup matches.
On a humid Thursday in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, another start was handed to Smith Rowe by head coach Unai Emery who rang the changes by including a number of fringe players. It proved to be a decision which would later pay off as the Hale End graduate netted a terrific goal in the 53rd minute after being played through by fellow academy product Alex Iwobi.
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‘Special’, ‘talented’, ‘wonderkid’ and ‘skilful’ are labels all attributed to the midfielder who plays with a confidence of someone twice his age. Former Gunners midfielder Jack Wilshere previously commented that the Croydon-born youngster possesses “something a little bit special” – and the north London faithful are starting to see exactly quite what all the fuss is about.
“When he has stepped up to train with the first team, he hasn’t looked out of place and that’s a sign of someone who has a real opportunity of not just making a career, but playing at this club, which I know is difficult,” said Wilshere.
“You can see over the years the good players that haven’t quite made it, but he has got something a little bit special, and he has a real chance.”
Smith Rowe, who won the Under-17 World Cup with England last summer and has previously rejected the chance to join Tottenham, only found out he was being included in the travelling party to Singapore a day beforehand. Against Qarabag he showed some nice touches, some impressive midfield running and link up play with the likes of Iwobi.
Smith Rowe (18y 67d) is the youngest player to score for Arsenal in a competitive game since Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against Olympiakos in September 2011. Such a feat emphasises the magnitude of what could be a breakthrough moment in his development. Other youngsters have come and gone but Smith Rowe can certainly look up to someone like Iwobi, a player who has risen through the academy to become a regular for club and country.
It was a night of first as Sokratis, Smith Rowe and Matteo Guendouzi all netted their first goals for Arsenal, but the most significant strike will surely be from the England youngster. Expectations are high, yet so is his confidence and if he continues to take his opportunities in the first team then it won’t be long before he becomes a regular under Emery.