Emile Smith Rowe deserves his England shot - now is the time to prove why

The young Gunner has received his first nod from the Three Lions.

Emile Smith Rowe of Arsenal. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Emile Smith Rowe of Arsenal. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

It’s still early days, but if his Arsenal side keep on mining their current vein of form, Mikel Arteta is going to have us all eating humble pie by the end of the season.

Few campaigns have started so desperately before igniting into such a spectacularly surefooted exhibition of a blueprint realised. It’s been the footballing equivalent of the Rebel Alliance blowing up the Death Star at the end of A New Hope. Does that count as a spoiler? It’s been 44 years, if you haven’t seen it yet, that’s on you.

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Anyways, the lads piloting the X-wings, so to speak, have properly turned on the afterburners over the past few weeks. Aaron Ramsdale has transformed himself from an inordinately expensive relegation harbinger into an infinitely likeable human padlock, a full stop incarnate, while Takihiro Tomiyasu possesses the kind of nonplussed ruthlessness usually reserved for B-movie henchmen, and Bukayo Saka continues to dazzle in bite-sized morsels of wonder – a bit like a Dairylea Lunchable in New Balances.

Emile Smith Rowe and Kalvin Phillips of England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

At the centre of the Gunners’ renaissance, however, has been Emile Smith Rowe.

The 21-year-old has been simmering away for a while now, gradually edging his way closer and closer towards indispensability, and this season he’s finally cemented his place as the linchpin of Arsenal’s, well, arsenal.

Four goals and two assists in 10 Premier League starts are impressive enough indicators of his progress on their own, but they also only tell half the story. According to Whoscored.com, the midfielder is the Gunners’ highest-rated performer of the season so far, with an average match rating of 7.14 and the greatest number of successful dribbles per 90 minutes in Arteta’s squad. He’s also completed more than nine out of 10 attempted passes this term – there are toothpaste brands who build their entire marketing strategy around those kind of numbers.

In short, Smith Rowe has graduated from next big thing to current big thing, and there were understandable cries of disbelief when he was initially omitted from Gareth Southgate's latest England party heading into a double header of World Cup qualification cakewalks against Albania and San Marino.

Admittedly, the 51-year-old has to pack in his attacking talents like sardines at the moment, but he also prides himself on running a meritocratic setup, and yet here Smith Rowe was, playing out of his skin and overlooked. Croydon’s answer to Kevin McCallister, it was almost as if everybody – almost impossibly – had jetted off and forgotten about Emile.

Of course, events have since transpired in his favour. With Marcus Rashford, Mason Mount, and James Ward-Prowse all failing to report for international duty, a spot opened up for an attacking player with the creativity and versatility to fulfil a number of roles in a slightly under-staffed contingent.

And now is the time for Smith Rowe to prove that he is more than just a willing understudy. Making a meaningful impact in a talent pool that boasts the superlative powers of Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Mount, and several others will be no breeze, but the Arsenal prospect has shown on numerous occasions already this season that he can mix it with the best that England have to offer.

His ability to receive the ball on the turn and drive at defenders is uncannily threatening, and with every passing month his eye for goal becomes just that little bit keener. Perhaps more pertinently still, he’s shown a maturity and a strength of character that would suggest he has what it takes to cut it at the very highest level.

Smith Rowe may not be an on-field foghorn or a bruising catalyst who riles his teammates into action with punishing tackles, but when Arsenal were struggling so comprehensively in the early stages of the campaign, he was one of a very select few who led by example and who helped the Gunners to play their way out of their slump.

If he can take those same habits and natural traits and apply them over the next week or so, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be his first call-up of many.