Arsenal started their FA Cup defense against Newcastle with a mix of starters and benches, as Mikel Arteta looked to keep his tiring troops spinning.
What is striking is that two of these first combined age teams are only 39 years old.
Bukayo Saka, 19, broke into the Gunners’ starting lineup last year due to his outstanding performances in the Europa League. Entering the Premier League has been a snap for him, where he has been invited to play a variety of positions from right-front to left-back.
After signing a new contract this summer, the number 7 has now become an instrument in Arsenal’s form tour.
The other half of that duo is the emerging Emile Smith Rowe, the 20-year-old, who like Saka has grown thanks to Arsenal’s Hale End Academy.
It was a slower process for the first team for the traveling midfielder. His first-team debut dates back to 2018, in a Europa League group stage match against Vorskla Poltava. In January 2019, he was sent to RB Leipzig on loan, but he was unable to make any impact due to injury.
Last season he was seen in different colors again, this time closer to his home in Huddersfield Town, where he played the second half of the 2019/20 season. In the penultimate game of the Championship, Smith Rowe practically saved the Terriers from relegation to Ligue 1, putting the winner in a 2-1 win over seeking promotion West Brom.
This season, Arteta has chosen to keep the youngster at the club, revealing in August his enthusiasm for what the Croydon-born player can bring.
“He’s a player with very specific qualities to play in those pockets in this attacking midfielder position. I am delighted to work with him. I spoke with him and followed him during his loan period. I think it’s someone. which can be quite impressive. I’m happy with what I saw of him. “
Until the end of November, Smith Rowe had to wait for the team’s first action this season. Sidelined early in the season with a shoulder injury, it wasn’t until the final games of Arsenal’s Europa League cruise campaign that he began to show why he was kept at the club.
After collecting two assists and a goal in just 129 minutes of play in the Europa League, and with Arsenal’s dismal Premier League form at Christmas, Arteta gave the youngster a chance to show his worth in the Boxing Day derby against Chelsea.
He did not disappoint.
Saka scored the third goal (did he think it or not) in the 3-1 win, but it was compatriot Hale End, Smith Rowe, who helped him. It was nothing compared to the former Arsenal goal the duo combined in the 4-0 demolition of West Brom five days later.
By teaming up with Alexandre Lacazette, the pair created a goal that gave Gunners fans flashbacks to the first Wengerball, with Smith Rowe kicking Saka once again for a single tap in.
The goal was exactly the type of goal Arsenal fans miss, with one Arsenal player highlighting Smith-Rowe’s new importance to the team.
Fast forward a week or so and Arteta would have hoped that an FA Cup home game against early exit specialists Newcastle was the perfect game to encourage his second-string players to step up and ask questions about the selection.
Oh how they failed.
Nicolas Pepe and Willian continued to look lost, marauding mindlessly around the pitch with little to no effect. The justification of their price (Pepe), their salaries (both) and their place in the starting lineup (both still) remains heavy on Arsenal and Arteta. Now, with two starving academy youngsters leading Arsenal to a fourth straight win, the inclusion of either player must be baffled.
After a frustrating first half against the Magpies, Arteta then turned to his two inspiring youngsters in the 56th and 66th minutes to step off the bench and bring Arsenal safely into the fourth round. They didn’t disappoint, although it took some extra time, as Saka’s good work ultimately led Smith Rowe to overtake the desperate Martin Dubravka.
This made two goals and four assists in just 438 minutes of first-team football (just under five games) and continued the seamless transition to using a system that works with a number 10 – a role left vacant. for many, many months.
His form in particular is a breath of fresh air and may lead many to believe that links with Julian Brandt of Borussia Dortmund and Emiliano Buendía of Norwich City are ultimately unnecessary; In particular, the club need to balance their books, as evidenced by the £ 120million bank loan taken out last week.
Moreover, Arteta clearly realizes that he has a bright future, confirming to the official Arsenal website how important he is now.
“It means that we believe in him, that he plays very well, that he is growing and becoming more and more important in the team. Today he showed that today with the way he’s come, the personality he’s playing with. We asked him to do it. getting into the box more and being more of a threat, and today he scored a really important goal for us. “
One thing is for sure, Smith Rowe deserves the praise ahead – hopefully for the sake of Arsenal, and Arteta, he is allowed to show that this form is no flash in the pan.