Analysis of Emile Smith-Rowe’s performance against Dundalk

How well did Emile Smith-Rowe play on his first start?

Three games, two assists and one goal. Of all the doom and gloom surrounding Arsenal in previous years one positive of this sustained period in the Europa League is the clear pathway that has been created for academy players into the first team. We’ve seen Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson and most recently Bakayo Saka use the Europa League group stages as a springboard into first team contention. A range of Hale End graduates have regularly played in the Europa League this season and the standout amongst them may have been Emile Smith-Rowe.

Now Smith-Rowe is not new to first team action, having made his debut for Arsenal as early as 2018, however a mixture of loan spells and injuries have halted his progress and he’ll be hoping that this season he can cement his place in the premier league squad as other academy products have done before him.

Against Dundalk, Smith Rowe started well, Arsenal lined up in an on the ball 3-4-3 formation with Smith-Rowe, Nketiah and Pepe making up the front three. Arsenal played a double pivot of Joe Willock and Mohammad Elneny in the middle of the park which is deficient of a real technician who specialises in progressing the ball forward and connecting midfield to attack. Arteta compensated for this by allowing Smith-Rowe to drift into more central positions at times to provide numerical superiorities in midfield with Maitland-Niles at LWB providing the width.

Arsenal started by building most of their attacks down the right hand side with Pepe and Cedric, despite this Smith-Rowe did show early moments of promise by combining well with Maitland-Niles down the left to provide an accurate cutback from the by-line for Pepe in the box who failed to hit the target.

It’ll be very intriguing to see how this combination could blossom in the future when adding Saka potentially playing in a left sided number eight position, where a promising attacking triangle could blossom.

Smith-Rowe showed his versatility on the left hand side in the first half dropping into a midfield position to provide the assist for Elneny’s goal, albeit the manner of the goal was more down to an incredible effort from Elneny from outside the box, rather than Smith-Rowe’s individual contribution.

Smith-Rowe provided a mobile and technically secure option on that left hand side for Arsenal as well as an adequate presser. As well as dropping into central positions against Dundalk, Smith-Rowe made many effective runs in behind attempting to find goal threatening positions. This attacking mobility and versatility is a real key strength of Smith-Rowe’s that many of Arsenal’s senior attacking players could learn from.

Arsenal went into the second half in a comfortable 2-1 position after excellent goals from Nketiah highlighting Arsenal’s effective pressing and a rocket from Elneny providing flashbacks for all Arsenal fans who remember the goal he scored against Barcelona. A goal from Jordan Flores later in the second half negated Arsenal’s pursuit for a clean sheet however Dundalk never really threatened Arsenal again effectively in the second half aside from one late half chance.

In the second half Smith-Rowe continued to have a fine game. Because of his tactical versatility he picked up positions in between the lines for Arsenal where Dundalk struggled to mark him in those half spaces. In the 62nd minute Balogun was brought on for Nketiah and Smith-Rowe swapped flanks with Pepe which brought an end to the promising Maitland-Niles/Smith Rowe partnership. This change however did not affect Smith-Rowe’s effectiveness as he made more advanced runs into the box from the right hand side where he could have had another assist with a better Pepe finish in the box.

Arsenal started building more attacks down the left with Pepe becoming more influential and in the 77th minute Smith-Rowe was taken off for another promising talent in Ben Cottrell. Who coincidentally came on and played back in Smith-Rowe’s original position on the left wing. Shortly after the substitution, Balogun’s got his second goal from a Sadio Mane-esque run in behind and finish, ending a superb night for Arsenal’s Hale End boys.

If any player showed signs of struggling perhaps question marks can be raised for Alex Runnarsson who let in a second goal deep into the second half from a set-piece where he perhaps should have reacted quicker for the header. The match ended 4-2 to the Gunners with Balogun stealing the headlines after another impressive appearance of the bench. In the excitement of Balogun’s showing, Smith-Rowe’s contribution cannot be overlooked where in his 77-minute cameo, he was Arsenal’s best player on the ball, contributing to three chances created, the most of any Arsenal players on the night.

Mikel Arteta’s man management has been quite controversial in many fans eyes because of his reluctance to use Saliba and Ozil and the handling of the recent Partey injury. One area Arteta has to get credit for is his slow acclimation of Smith-Rowe back into first team action where if he can remain injury free, he will be ever-present throughout the season.

Yusuf Malik

Tags arsenal v dundalk Smith-Rowe


  1. No doubt ESR was effective but I feel his effectiveness can be increased by playing him more centrally rather than on the left. My regular midfield would be a base of Partey and Elneny and ESR slightly ahead of them just behind the front 3 in a 433 formation. With this ESR can provide the link up and creativity and can also drift on the wings as and when the opportunity arises due to his versatility. Hope MA includes him in the starting XI on Sunday along with AMN and Elneny. Also I feel Soares did a great job and is better at defending as compared to Belerin and Soares can play as RB with Tierney as LB or on the left side of a back 3. In that case Saka will be playing upfront with Laca/Nketiah/Balogun and Auba.

  2. Also worth (more?) than a mention was the classy looking Azzez. I don’t want to over hype him but there was a touch of the Fabregas about his play.

  3. I have said it time and time again that Aouar is not all that better yhan ESR. With more game time he’ll save us millions.

    I always see cohesion and telepathy when our academy graduates play together. Willock, Nelson, Saka, ESR, Nketiah and now Balogun.

    I can boldly say these core of academy graduates play better than the first team. Their link up play is a joy to watch. Xhaka must not get closer to the first XI again. Since he was rested yesterday, he will surely start on Sunday.

    Do the coaches see what we see?

  4. Maybe between ESR and Azzez we will finally fill the gap that was left by Fabrigas, Ramsey and Wilshere? They both have similar styles that we so miss right now!

        1. Groan and double groan for those two ineffective players. I would now play many of the youngsters and leave out many regulars who just don’t cut it Drop Bellerin Xhaka, Pepe, Willian and even Auba until he starts actually getting involved. He is fast turning into Ozil mark two for idleness.

  5. What a very complete dissection of the performance of ESR Yusuf, very well done.At a time when fans are filled with doom and gloom, it is refreshing to know that ESR and a number of other youngsters, look to have the potential to go far in the game..As we are where we are, due to the lack of ability in a number of overpaid, experienced players, fans, I am sure, will back MA should be decide to give the likes of ESR regular outings in EP L matches.

  6. Arteta should go back to a 4213 formation. Smith Rowe playing behind the striker.

    Mikel should also look at benching Aubameyang on sunday.

    Bellerin Holding Gabriel Tierney

    AMN Elneny

    Smith Rowe

    Willian Lacazette Saka

    Aubameyang can come in as a substitute. No law that says Aubameyang must start every match

    1. Willian slows down attacking moves, so I for one was not a fan of his. I will play Nelson or Saka in his place
      Bellerin Mustafi Gabriel Tierney
      AMN. Elneny
      Nelson. Laca. Saka.
      Reserves : Holding, Cedric, Balogun, Xhaka, Ceballos, Auba, G. K

  7. Been saying for ages ESR needs to be starting.

    I think our midfield is the next project for MA. The defence is alot more solid and I thibk its fine. If we have a better midfield it will take more pressure off of our defence.

    I think certain teams we need a single pivot with either willock/AMN next to partey and stronger teams a double pivot with elneney next to partey.

    ESR to play no10

    Xaka cebellos should be backup as far as I’m concerned. I also wanna see more of nelson and drop willian. God willian was a crap signing.

  8. These men deserve more minutes in the PL, they’ve been showing enough to be used in the right places, not like the others, MA should really consider some “shuffling” in the team with ESR+Willock and Nelson being there around Pepe and Saka, we all know he prefers 3-6-1 or 3-4-3 so why he can’t play these guys?

  9. Great write-up. Well-structured and written 👍

    The last paragraph is particularly poignant. While many fans are calling for the Hale End boys to immediately compensate for the underperforming first team, there’s something to be said for building confidence in smaller games. There are always the Fabregases and Messis (and Sakas) who serve as exceptions, but if a player is introduced too early and plays poorly, self-belief withers away and severely hampers progress. By playing at this level, ESR, Nelson, AMN, Balogun and the rest are learning that they have the ability to prosper at this level and take that confidence into bigger games. I think Arteta is doing well in this regard.

    Another point worth mentioning (for all 3 people who read this) is that whole we may groan at the signings of Cedric, Luiz and Willian, their presence is not just improving the quality of the first team, but as competition for players in similar positions. The young lads know they have to perform and train consistently well to beat the competition, and that if they don’t, there are other options the manager can use. The hope is that this form of healthy competition in all areas of the pitch will push the young lads that little bit harder and precipitate their development.

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