Emile Smith Rowe has barely played for Arsenal this season, but Mikel Arteta insists he still has a role to play for the Gunners

Despite playing just 241 minutes last season, the Hale Ender remains one of the most popular members of the Arsenal squad. Mikel Arteta admitted the reception for the man who arguably saved his job in a sliding doors victory over Chelsea on Boxing Day in 2020 made him emotional. Despite external perceptions he insists that he shares the fanbase’s admiration for Smith Rowe.

Mikel Arteta said on Tuesday ahead of Arsenal’s Carabao Cup third round clash with Brentford. “Here he is incredibly popular. We all love him. It’s no different to what the people feel to what we feel about him.

“There’s been many reasons why he hasn’t started a match. He was out for a long, long time. He had a sequence of matches that he played with the national team, then he came in and didn’t participate.

“In the last two matches he’s played more minutes, and tonight he will have a big chance to show that he can play at this level and be a really important player for us.”

While impressing in the Carabao Cup will be a start, Smith Rowe will of course have his sights set on bigger stages. The Hale Ender was Arsenal’s second highest scorer only two seasons ago and will want to regain his position of importance in the squad.

though Gabriel Martinelli and Leandro Trossard have moved ahead of him in the left wing position and Smith Rowe has been remodelled as a central midfielder which is where Arteta sees his future. “The best position for Emile is in those pockets, the Spaniard says. “It is not to play as a pure winger. I think it suits him, I think the relationships will suit him. Now he needs the minutes and he needs to prove that he can do what he can do.”

To achieve that though Smith Rowe faces yet another obstacle. Martin Odegaard has recently signed a contract and is the club captain, while the additions of Fabio Vieira and Kai Havertz have forced Smith Rowe further down the pecking order. It is this that Arteta believes is the Hale Ender’s biggest hurdle to gaining regular minutes at Arsenal.

“At this level [competition for places] is [his biggest problem],” Arteta says. “And if he goes to the national team, does he start? It depends on who is also in that position. So it’s one thing to be there, the other is to start. And then once you start, are you consistent enough to stay there? And you have to stay first as well.”