By all accounts, Emile Smith Rowe was one of the very few positives for Arsenal against Brentford.
After signing a new contract earlier in the summer and being handed the No.10 shirt, the 21-year-old had already taken on extra responsibility before the new season had begun and at times, felt like a one-man show last Friday night.
Having been linked with a move to Aston Villa prior to committing his future to the Gunners, the attacking midfielder was hailed as a ‘shining light’ following the 2-0 loss at newly-promoted Brentford.
“There was talk of him going to Aston Villa at one point this summer. They can’t let him go. His energy, his quality, was absolutely fantastic,” Gary Neville said on Sky Sports after the game.
“That link up with Tierney down the left. He was a shining light for Arsenal who you talk about wanting the ball. He was one of the positives for Arsenal tonight.”
And on an even more positive note, statistics show that the attacking midfielder proved to be one of the most effective players in the Premier League on the opening weekend of the new season.
As revealed by The Athletic, Smith Rowe was ranked third for ‘expected threat’ (xT) across the entire division.
An explanation for xT is as follows: ‘xT is a new metric that measures how well players and teams progress the ball upfield into dangerous areas’.
Unsurprisingly, Smith Rowe was the Arsenal player that carried the most threat against the Bees.
His score of 0.39 meant he was the Premier League’s third most effective ball progressor on the opening weekend of the new season, behind West Ham’s Vladimír Coufal (0.4) and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (0.41).
Now, the biggest difference is that the latter duo were on right side of a 4-2 and 3-0 scoreline respectively, so Smith Rowe’s efforts at the Brentford Community Stadium ultimately counted for nothing.
With that said, there is at least some cause for optimism.
One can argue that given the importance of Salah to Liverpool in particular, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta may have effectively discovered his own player who will be as crucial when his side are looking to progress the ball upfield into dangerous areas.
This has happened after the north London outfit made a key decision to reject multiple bids from Aston Villa in the early stages of the summer transfer window.
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Interestingly, Kieran Tierney, Albert Sambi Lokonga and Granit Xhaka joined Smith Rowe in the top 20 for xT.
However, Nicolas Pepe (0.01) and Gabriel Martinelli (0.03) struggled to match the quartet which indicates that Arteta needs to demand a lot more from his wide players as the season progresses.
Although amid links to the likes of Martin Odegaard, James Maddison and Aaron Ramsdale, it could be that Arsenal’s next transfer mission is to sign a more creative wide player that compliments Smith Rowe.