Emile Smith Rowe was under plenty of scrutiny as he started Arsenal’s match against Aston Villa on Friday, given the latter’s two bids for him over the summer.
There was plenty of talk about the midfielder ahead of the game, and you could sense the Villa fans sharpening their knives to dig into each and every mistake he made – to help themselves to feel better about missing out on him.
Fortunately, the 21-year-old didn’t give them that opportunity. A goal and an assist capped off an excellent performance from the Arsenal man, in which he also created four chances, completed all three attempted dribbles and won four of five ground duels.
It was the latest in a string of good performances from Smith Rowe, who ended up winning Man of the Match on Friday.
The midfielder has four goals and two assists in his last seven games for Arsenal and the England u21s, averaging 2.55 chances created per 90 in the five Arsenal matches in that period.
It’s reaching the point where Smith Rowe should start to be under consideration for Gareth Southgate’s squad in the upcoming international break, not the u21 squad.
It’s worth remembering we have a World Cup coming up, in just over a year.
That’s long enough for Smith Rowe to continue to grow and develop his game and be a real addition to England’s squad by next winter, but short enough that Southgate can’t delay his introduction for too much longer.
You don’t want to get to next autumn with Smith Rowe still not having started to integrate with the England group at all. At that point, you can’t reasonably call him up for a major tournament, even if he’s still showing his current form.
Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden have already shown why it’s worth taking risks on some young players, and Smith Rowe should be next up.
The Hale End graduate offers a unique profile to the England squad, with Jamie Carragher saying in commentary on Friday that he’s the best player in the Premier League when it comes to running with the ball.
He’s also an exceptionally hard worker on the pitch. When Daily Cannon recently attended Arsenal’s STATSports event, Smith Rowe had the highest totals for total distance covered, high-intensity distance, and high-speed running of any player we were shown.
With Smith Rowe, you know you’re getting full commitment, a player who can score and assist, a regular Premier League starter, and a top ball-carrier with another 10 years ahead of him at the top level.
England would be foolish to leave him out of their senior setup for much longer.