Arsenal legend Ian Wright named Emile Smith Rowe both “top drawer” and a “real player” after the attacking midfielder came off the bench to help see the Gunners into the fourth round of the FA Cup on Saturday night. Replacing Reiss Nelson on the hour mark, Smith Rowe scored the opening goal of the game in extra time against Newcastle.
After seeing a red card rescinded after a VAR check, having caught Sean Longstaff with a late tackle, Smith Rowe delivered the opener by latching on to Alexandre Lacazette’s knockdown header and drilling a fine right-footed effort across goal and in off the post.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang added a second eight minutes later as the FA Cup holders saw themselves into the next round at the Emirates.
Academy graduate Smith Rowe, 20, has now supplied a goal and two assists in Arsenal’s last four matches, all of which they have won against Chelsea, Brighton, West Brom and the Magpies.
Those victories have allowed Arsenal to lift themselves out of the gloom of a dire run of results and playmaker Smith Rowe has played a vital role in the north London outfit’s resurgence, which Wright was keen to point out.
Speaking post-match, Wright declared: “It did [take a while for Arsenal to open the scoring]. In the end he [Mikel Arteta] had to bring on his top guys because first half the guys he brought in to step up and do a job, they didn’t do it.
“That was the opportunity for Newcastle to put a bit more pressure on Arsenal and maybe nick something and then the pressure would’ve been on.
“They didn’t have the quality to do it. They defended very well but Arsenal’s quality and the tiredness of Newcastle showed.”
The camera then panned to Smith Rowe and Wright continued: “But he’s quality. Top drawer. He is a real player. Absolutely delighted for him.”
He went on to add: “It’s what he deserved. In the first half we weren’t getting enough midfield players joining and in the box and he’s someone who does that naturally in his game.
“He’s done well there. You want a calm, composed strike on target and he’s done that.
“He’s literally one of the only players we have in the squad who plays on the half turn in there.
“He comes into that area of the pitch, we had [Granit] Xhaka and [Mohamed] Elneny and they’re deep, they need someone in the middle of the pitch to lay it into who can link with the midfield and the forwards.
“He’s the kind of person that wants the ball in there to progress it forward. That’s what we didn’t do in the first half and in the previous games to the ones we’ve won.”
With Arsenal now managing four consecutive wins across the Premier League and the FA Cup, Wright added: “I’m pleased for him [Arteta] because he had to find a way.
“We brought the young guys in with their enthusiasm and energy and Smith Rowe’s quality in that area of the field where we haven’t got too many players that do what he does.
“It’s coincided with the wins. Again, he’s finished the game today with the team that’s probably been involved in those wins. His problem is now is the depth.”
Speaking to BBC Sport himself post-match, goalscorer Smith Rowe declared: “Really happy. It was a bit of a relief, the incident before wasn’t ideal.
“But it wasn’t intentional. Happy to get the goal and go through to the next round. [It was] Very difficult.
“We knew Newcastle would come here and how tough it was going to be. It was about breaking them down. We got there and happy with the win.
“It’s great [to be playing a part]. From a young kid, I always dreamt of playing for the club. There’s a group of us youngsters here who are getting the chance. Really happy to be playing for this club.”
On achieving four straight wins, he added: “It shows how together we are. We have been working off the pitch to get closer as a group. And it’s showing. We’ve just got to keep going.”