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Aston Villa’s Emile Smith Rowe Bids a Sign of the Times for Arsenal

By Rob Worthington (Deputy Editor)

Arsenal are approaching their 5th season without Champions League football following their second consecutive campaign finishing outside of European Competition qualification spot in the Premier League. Bleak reading, indeed.

As a result of the club’s failures in recent years, their status as a giant in the football world has been a subject of hot debate amongst fans of many a team. How can a club who haven’t featured in the game’s biggest competition since 2017 be considered a giant?

It’s difficult to accept, but Arsenal have entered a sleeping giant phase. Nothing can be taken from Arsenal’s stature as one of the world’s great football clubs due to its wonderful history, but it quite frankly isn’t what it used to be.

Where the decline started is difficult to say. Of course, Arsenal haven’t won a League title since the 03/04 ‘Invincibles’ season. However, since then, the north London side have reached a Champions League final and added 4 FA Cups to their record breaking tally alongside regular UCL qualification. So, it hasn’t all been doom and gloom. For sure, the downward trajectory hasn’t been a sharp one.

Well, at least not until recent times.

Doubtless, no one at Arsenal foresaw the tumultuous years that would follow Arsène Wenger’s exit from the club after his 22 year stint as manager. You won’t need reminding of what has followed. Numerous painful Europa League runs and far too many underwhelming Premier League finishes. Just not good enough.

And that right there is why Aston Villa feel well within their rights to bid for Emile Smith Rowe. Villa, on the other hand, are a club on the up. Since their promotion back to the Premier League two years ago, they have invested heavily and have clearly progressed as evidenced by league finishes. Arsenal find themselves remaining in a state of regression in that regard.

As a result of said progression and regression, Arsenal and Aston Villa find themselves in a similar ball park right now. Both are desperate to break the top six seal. The clubs are direct opponents. For Villa, if they were to sign Smith Rowe, they wouldn’t only be getting a fantastic player, but they’d also be weakening a direct rival.

It really is a sign of the times. Fortunately, Arsenal aren’t entertaining Villa’s offers for the promising Englishman. The merciless rebuff of the initial £25 million bid came across as an order from Arsenal towards Aston Villa that the Midlands side should stay in their lane. Yet, reports suggest Villa are preparing a £30 million bid as we speak. Clearly, Arsenal are not the big dogs they used to be.

It goes without saying that Smith Rowe is an Arsenal boy born and bred. Nonetheless, the fact the Villains are launching official bids doesn’t discount the idea that Smith Rowe’s camp are encouraging Villa’s attempts. As James McNicholas has clarified in recent episodes of the Arsecast Extra, it is extremely rare in the modern age that a club bids for a player without assurances that a deal could be struck.

Now, there are mitigating factors in this regard. Arsenal are of course crunched in contract talks with Smith Rowe and his agents are likely using interest from other clubs as a ploy to improve the terms of their clients potential renewal. Yet, the official bids are indicative of much more than ‘interest’. Villa think they have a chance. They think they can tempt Smith Rowe.

What Villa think can happen and what will actually happen are still likely to be very different things. Transfer guru Fabrizio Romano insists Smith Rowe will renew his contract with Arsenal which elucidates the youngster’s priorities. However, the ever so slight wandering of his eye is a vivid indication of where Arsenal are as a club right now.

Make no mistake, Arsenal still hold immense status in the European game. James Maddison wouldn’t be reportedly interested in a move to the north London club if that weren’t so. Yet, there is plenty of work for Edu and co. to do in years to come if they are to make Arsenal a giant again. Because right now, they are not.

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