Emile Smith Rowe is staying at Arsenal

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Emile Smith Rowe has committed his long-term future to Arsenal, signing a new deal to end interest from Aston Villa.

Smith Rowe, who became one of Arsenal’s most important players last season, has been rewarded for his fine form and will now wear the No 10 shirt for the club.

The 20 year-old is a product of the Arsenal academy and, along with Bukayo Saka, is seen as one of the most important players in Mikel Arteta’s first-team squad.

Villa had hoped to tempt Smith Rowe away from north London but their bids were swiftly dismissed by the Arsenal hierarchy, who insisted that the attacking midfielder was not for sale.

“Emile is a player who represents the future of the club and this is why we have given him the number 10 shirt,” said Edu, the technical director. “We have trust in Emile and we know he has the potential to be a beautiful player for many years to come.”

Arteta added: “As we all saw last season, Emile is an intelligent player with excellent ability. His sharpness on the turn and exceptional vision have already made him a key player for us. His attitude and willingness to learn have also been very impressive.”

Smith Rowe now undisputedly one of Arsenal’s key men

It was in early March when Mikel Arteta warned that Arsenal were preparing for an “unprecedented” summer transfer window, prompting expectations of significant signings and numerous outgoings.

So far that has not come to pass, although there is still plenty of time on Arsenal’s hands before the window closes. And for all the gathering grumbles among the more impatient members of the fanbase, it is surely worth noting that Arsenal have now completed two crucial bits of business involving players who are already at the club.

The first was the new contract signed by Kieran Tierney last month, and the second is the similarly long-term deal that has been agreed with playmaker Emile Smith Rowe. The 20 year-old emerged as one of Arteta’s most important players last season, becoming a crucial member of the team, and his commitment to a new deal is a sign of Arsenal’s intent.

It said plenty about Smith Rowe’s importance to Arsenal that they all but laughed off Aston Villa’s attempts to snatch him away this summer. Their bids, worth around £25 million and £30m, were not even close to Arsenal’s valuation of the player. From the start of the summer to the moment he signed the new contract, Arsenal were insistent that Smith Rowe simply was not for sale.

With a new deal, and a new No 10 shirt to reflect his standing within the group, Smith Rowe is now undisputedly one of Arsenal’s key men. There will be more pressure now and more expectation following his excellent second half of last season.

The primary goal for Smith Rowe must be to contribute more goals and assists. Last season he was so impressive because he facilitated others, but in time he will need to do that and provide goal threat of his own. He scored two goals in 20 Premier League appearances in 2020/21, with those strikes coming in the last four games of the campaign.

It will have been a source of encouragement, therefore, that Smith Rowe struck a poacher’s finish at the back post in Arsenal’s opening pre-season match against Hibernian. “He knows it is part of his game he needs to get better at,” said Arteta afterwards. “We are working on it a lot.”

Towards the end of last season, after Smith Rowe scored his first league goal in a match against West Bromwich Albion, Arteta set a long-term target for his playmaker. “He’s having an incredible season ever since he started to play in December,” Arteta said. “But he’s scoring his first Premier League goal. An incredible season for a No 10 of Arsenal means he needs to score 15 goals and give 10 assists. Then you are right up there with the top guys in Europe and in the league. 

“He’s got the ability to do it but he hasn’t done it. We need to stay calm with him, give him the right support and step by step I think he will be getting there.”

Clearly, the first of those steps was this new contract. Now for the rest.