The Attacking Midfielder at Home
By Sumaiya Vawda
Transfer rumours are rich grounds for debate and hyperbole. Some hypotheticals highlight essential elements of squad building around a particular style, while others are simply otherworldly. One hypothetical that belongs in the bizarre bin while simultaneously inducing a weary shiver is the exit of Emile Smith Rowe.
Adding £2.5 million to a rejected bid to tempt Arsenal to give up their breakthrough academy player is laughable. Yet, it has prompted discussion of how big a bid is too much to reject. If a random scenario generator coughs up a proposal of ESR plus £30 million in exchange for James Maddison, do you take it?
Before answering that, let's remind ourselves of Smith Rowe's 20/21 season. He entered the fray quite suddenly against Chelsea following a dismal run of no wins in seven games for Arteta. His impact was immediate. A flick of the hair, boyish grin, socks pooled at his ankles; Smith Rowe always availed for the ball, filled in, created space and, most importantly, progressed play upfield.
According to @Orbinho, Arsenal's Premier League win percentage was 63% when Smith Rowe started for the team and a meagre 30% when he did not. His effectiveness stems from being a conveyor belt that goes both ways- interpreting spaces where he can pick up the ball, driving at defences and working to aid the other midfielders in ball recovery.
It doesn't hurt that he appears joyful to be on the pitch and help teammates in sticky situations. Lo, don't be fooled by the heart on his sleeve; the 20-year old is deceptively quick, has devilish feet and dancing hips. His elusive nutmeg assist for Pépé against Slavia Prague is memorable. His first Premier League goal (against West Brom) was a calm left-footed volley while arriving into the penalty area. And his full potential is yet untapped.
Another strength of the youngster is his threat creation (xT) from both wing and half-spaces on either side. In the North London derby, he created four chances, which was more than all the Spurs players put together. He's undoubtedly got boots of flair, but functionality is not lacking.
Back in the world of our hypothetical scenario, it's increasingly apparent that Arsenal cannot buy a 20-year old English attacking midfielder who has already announced himself in the Premier League for £30 million. Thus the thought of selling one is ludicrous. And what of James Maddison? If the entire England national squad was placed in Covid-19 quarantine and a fresh set of players had to be called up, Smith Rowe would have a strong chance of making that squad where Maddison's past behaviour will be met with hesitance.
Arsenal do require another attacking midfielder to ease the burden off Smith Rowe and increase the number of shots the team takes. Goals can propel the club up the table, and thus the position must be prioritised. However, while waltzing down the candy aisle and gawking at the potential picks, one must not forget the delicious chocolate in the pantry at home.
A new contract should allay any concerns; however, where Aston Villa could be receiving motivation to re-bid for the player is perplexing. The Gunners have stumbled upon a great crop of young talent- those with a long-term future at the club seem to be separating from those who could be sold for profit. Both groups are imperative to the club's future success. All hail, Hale End!