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Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka: A special friendship and partnership for the Gunners

Emile Smith Rowe made his first start for the England senior squad in the recent 10-0 victory over minnows San Marino. He managed to score one of the ten goals after a brief substitute appearance in the win over Albania. In the press conference after the San Marino hammering, Smith Rowe was quizzed on his ‘special bond’ with long-time Arsenal teammate Bukayo Saka, with the pair linking up well on the international stage in the microstate of north-central Italy.

Although cynics might say that National League players would look good against the lowest ranked nation in international football, Smith Rowe certainly announced himself on the senior stage. He teed up Harry Kane’s second goal and got on the scoresheet following a clever exchange with Roma front man Tammy Abraham.

Smith Rowe said he was “buzzing” to be on the same pitch as Saka, his long-time friend through the Arsenal academy. Smith Rowe said the pair have been “so close for so long” and that it was “a pleasure” to line up in the same England starting XI as him. In the Premier League, the duo have an almost telepathic partnership which has reaped dividends of late for the Gunners. They have assisted each other five times in the 2021/22 Premier League. Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney have combined more at a similar age, registering eight assists between one another during their time at Manchester United.

Already focal points in the Gunners’ midfield

The pair have proven themselves to be big game players already for Mikel Arteta this season too. Arsenal outperformed the football betting markets and form book to overcome Spurs in the North London derby in September, with Smith Rowe and Saka both concluding the game with the highest Fantasy Team points. Saka put the ball on a plate for Smith Rowe’s opening goal in the 3-1 victory over Tottenham, before Smith Rowe registered an assist of his own for Arsenal skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Saka got in on the act with a trademark weaving run before an ice-cool finish beyond Hugo Lloris.

As a matter of fact, most of Arsenal’s free flowing attacking play went through Smith Rowe and Saka. Although some might say that this is rather damning of the Gunners’ more senior midfielders, it also underlines the shift towards a younger, more dynamic line-up at the Emirates Stadium. The addition of Martin Odegaard to the Gunners’ midfield also means that Arteta has a core of creative players in the 20-22yearold age bracket, which can only be good when building for the future – even if their chastening 4-0 loss to Liverpool shows how far they have to go.

Former Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Petit recently likened Smith Rowe to former England ace Paul Gascoigne in terms of playing style and stature. He said that Smith Rowe is a similarly “natural player” both in terms of “his mind” and “his feet”. Petit said that he was the “character, humility and desire” to succeed at the highest level and, along with Saka, the pair are the “best examples from the academy” at present. He also said the pair “could be the future” of the senior England side too.

Petit admitted there are still aspects of Smith Rowe’s game that need ironing out in order for him to remain Arsenal’s creator-in-chief at “number 10 for some time”. He said he is still liable to “go missing” for chunks of games and needs to learn to “stay focused” for the full 90 minutes. There is no doubt that Gareth Southgate’s interest in him has seen him step his game up another level. Petit says his “body language” since the start of the season has “changed so much”.

Arteta also confirmed that Smith Rowe had changed his lifestyle in recent months to try and become a “real important player” at the Emirates. His interest in “every detail” of his game suggests he is driven and determined not to let this chance slip through his fingers.


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