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Tactical Analysis: How Emile Smith-Rowe has changed how Arsenal play

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29: Emile Smith Rowe of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Arsenal at American Express Community Stadium on December 29, 2020 in Brighton, England.The match will be played without fans, behind closed doors as a Covid-19 precaution. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Arsenal’s Smith-Rowe their saviour

The emergence of Emile Smith-Rowe at Arsenal has been the arguable saviour of the first half of the season. The Gunners remain in a very poor position in the league table but it would be much more concerning had they not won their last three fixtures.

The cornerstone of these 3 wins against Chelsea, Brighton and West Bromwich Albion was the inclusion of the young Smith-Rowe who, up until that point, had only featured sparingly in the Europa League.

With the decision to omit Mesut Ozil from the Arsenal squad in both domestic and European competition, Mikel Arteta had left his squad without a senior, natural central attacking midfielder. Smith-Rowe was unavailable due to injury at the start of the campaign and Arsenal failed in their attempts to sign Lyon playmaker Houssem Aouar.

Tactical Analysis: How Emile Smith-Rowe has changed how Arsenal play

LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 15: Per Mertesacker and Fredrik Ljungberg of Arsenal look on as Mesut Ozil kicks his gloves in the air in frustration after he is subbed during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on December 15, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Robin Jones/Getty Images)

This led to a selection problem for Arteta who chopped and changed between the 3-4-3 formation which had brought them FA Cup success last season and a 4-3-3 which was a clear indication of the vision the Spanish coach had for his Arsenal side in the future.

However, a lack of a natural creative midfielder and marquee signing Thomas Partey out with injury problems, Arsenal lacked the central ability to progress the ball forwards and thus were utterly reliant on the left wing with Hector Bellerin, Willian and Nicolas Pepe struggling for form on the right.

The end result was the worst start to a Premier League season in Arsenal’s history. Ahead of the Chelsea game, Gunners fans were struggling to see where a goal would come from let alone a win. However, Smith-Rowe was selected alongside the returning Gabriel Martinelli, the pair of youngsters lit up the Emirates and utterly ravaged Chelsea’s backline with energy and dynamism. What followed in the games up until the present would be more of the same.

How does Smith-Rowe change Arsenal?

The best indicators of determining what Emile Smith-Rowe would provide for Arsenal could be found by looking at his substitute performance against Manchester City in the League Cup defeat. Despite the game being lost for Arsenal, thanks to some horrific goalkeeping and poor officiating, the England youth international earned his call up to the Premier League squad with his 26-minute cameo.

Emile Smith Rowe finds space and provides an option to be passed to inside.

Emile Smith Rowe finds space and provides an option to be passed to inside.

Spinning with the ball, Smith-Rowe plays and Incisive pass in to Alexandre Lacazette.

Spinning with the ball, Smith-Rowe plays an incisive pass into Alexandre Lacazette.

Spotting the run of Kolasinac, Smith-Rowe plays a through pass to find the Bosnian International.

Spotting the run of Kolasinac, Smith-Rowe plays a through pass to find the Bosnian international.

Smith-Rowe makes the run for Joe Willock to play the pass in behind the Manchester City defence.

Smith-Rowe makes the run for Joe Willock to play the pass in behind the Manchester City defence.

Using his left foot, Smith-Rowe curls a across towards Folarin Balogun but the ball is just behind the striker.

Using his left foot, Smith-Rowe curls a cross towards Folarin Balogun but the ball is just behind the striker.

In just these 26 minutes Smith-Rowe had shown plenty of what Arsenal have been missing over the past couple of months. A player who could find space in the final third, someone who could play the incisive through balls to strikers that had been solely feeding off crossed balls, typically ones of an aerial nature, and a forward thinker that would be willing to make determined runs between the defensive lines.

Smith-Rowe picks up the ball on the left-hand side and makes a darting run past to Brighton players.

Smith-Rowe picks up the ball on the left-hand side and makes a darting run past two Brighton players.

Spotting the movement of defenders towards the goal, the England youth international cuts the ball back to Martinelli who is able to spin and take a shot at goal.

Spotting the movement of defenders towards the goal, the England youth international cuts the ball back to Martinelli who is able to spin and take a shot at goal.

Making another run from deep, Smith-Rowe picks up the ball in the central area, before progressing it into the opposition's half.

Making another run from deep, Smith-Rowe picks up the ball in the central area, before progressing it into the opposition’s half.

Spotting the run of Aubameyang on the left-hand side, the 20-year old feeds the Gabonese forward and continues his run to the right hand side of the pitch. Aubameyang takes a shot when he could have found Smith-Rowe completely free to the right of the goal.

Spotting the run of Aubameyang on the left-hand side, the 20-year old feeds the Gabonese forward and continues his run to the right hand side of the pitch. Aubameyang takes a shot when he could have found Smith-Rowe completely free to the right of the goal.

The first half against Brighton and Hove Albion was a concerning sight for the whole of the Arsenal squad. It appeared the performance was akin to that of the 10 previous games before Chelsea, however, they were able to go in at halftime with the score still at 0-0. This was important because at the start of the second half whatever Mikel Arteta had said to the team at halftime certainly had an impact.

Smith-Rowe and Martinelli came to life and their combination play was crucial to early chances being created. Eventually, it would be Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette who would combine to make the breakthrough. However, without Smith-Rowe’s high intensity at the beginning of the half, perhaps the energy would not have perpetuated throughout the rest of the 90 minutes which led to Arsenal’s victory.

The three matches against Manchester City in the League Cup and the two league matches against Chelsea and Brighton showed glimpses of what Smith-Rowe was capable of. However, the goal against West Brom whereby the 20-year old would set up fellow youngster Saka for The Gunners second goal was a coming together of all of his qualities in one swift movement.

Similar to the initial involvement against Manchester City, Smith-Rowe find space inside for the boot we played to him.

Similar to the initial involvement against Manchester City, Smith-Rowe find space inside for the ball to be played to him.

He spins and plays the ball into Saka, Following with a run in behind and through the defensive lines

He spins and plays the ball into Saka, following with a run in behind and through the defensive lines

Saka lays the ball off to Lacazette who sees the run of Smith-Rowe and curls a ball in behind to meet the midfielder.

Saka lays the ball off to Lacazette who sees the run of Smith-Rowe and curls a ball in behind to meet the midfielder.

Smith-Rowe spots the central run of Saka and perfectly weights the ball across the goal for the youngster to tap home.

Smith-Rowe spots the central run of Saka and perfectly weights the ball across the goal for the youngster to tap home.

The goal was a simply beautiful call-back to free-flowing Arsenal moves of the past and a youth product from the Hale End Academy was at the centre of it. Arteta’s recent faith in youth has rewarded him and Smith-Rowe has shown that he is capable of playing at the highest level and influencing Arsenal for the better in many ways.

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This article was edited by Josh Barker.