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Arsenal can only give Mesut Ozil’s No 10 shirt number to one star as Newcastle win showed | Football | Sport


Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette both want it and Willian would also surely be keen having worn the same at Chelsea. But the No 10 shirt being vacated by the outgoing Mesut Ozil should be handed to one man only and Arsenal should wait until the end of the current campaign to give it a new owner.

That man is Emile Smith Rowe, who has thrived for Mikel Arteta since coming into the Gunners’ starting line-up in December for the 3-1 home defeat of Chelsea.

Ozil is poised to join Fenerbahce to end an eight-year association with the north London club which has had huge highs and massive lows and will leave the No 10 shirt free in heading to Turkey.

Only a month ago, there were calls for the German World Cup winner to be restored to the team to help solve the team’s creative woes but instead Smith Rowe has stepped up brilliantly to help lift the gloom that had set in at the Emirates.

With Smith Rowe – the current owner of the No 32 shirt – in the team over the past five Premier League games, Arsenal have averaged 2.2 goals per game (11 in five). In the 14 games before that, it was just 0.8 goals per game (12 in 14).

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It is a small sample size and not all of that improvement is solely down to the 20-year-old playmaker of course, but he is making a huge contribution and only Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes has created more goalscoring chances since Smith Rowe broke into the Arsenal side.

Despite his inexperience at senior level, making just 34 first-team appearances before this season, over half of which came in the Championship with Huddersfield, Smith Rowe is making a real and tangible impact.

He’s scored or assisted in seven of his last 10 games and is contributing a goal or an assist every 87 minutes across all competitions this season, having only played a total of 610 minutes in the league and in cup competitions so far.

Against Newcastle, Smith Rowe created a game-high four chances and served up Bukayo Saka’s goal – to make it 2-0 – on a plate as Arsenal eventually ran out comfortable winners.

It is not just his numbers but the quality with which he carries the ball and finds his team-mates in possession. There is so much class and elegance in the way he plays, and he’s also an incredibly industrious player off of the ball.

The Hale End graduate – who has been with Arsenal since the age of 10 – is making a huge impression and is showcasing quite clearly that he, along with Saka, has a massive future at the Emirates. He is already virtually undroppable at this moment in time.

There will be dips as he continues to develop and realise his potential, as his stuttering display against Crystal Palace showed, but there are few better playmakers than him at his age, aside from Manchester City’s Phil Foden, when in full flow.

Smith Rowe is the natural heir to the No 10 shirt and plays with the maturity and swagger that suggests being honoured with the jersey now would not phase him.

Bukayo Saka’s form in the No 7 shirt – and his similar potential and performance levels, with both playing well beyond their years – also supports the idea that the ‘Croydon De Bruyne’ as he has become playfully known can withstand the raised expectations.

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If you look at a similar style of player in Jack Grealish, he took the same number at Aston Villa shortly before turning 21. It hasn’t hampered him since either, the now 25-year-old now the Villans’ captain and talisman.

Arteta had already identified Smith Rowe as a part of his long-term plans during his successful stint at Huddersfield last season, where he mustered two goals and three assists in 19 Championship appearances.

And what better way to cement his belief in the player than to give him the No 10 shirt?

Arsenal are said to be on the look-out for a new attacking midfielder but in their own academy graduate they have a player with an immense ceiling and one who should be integral to their starting eleven over the next decade if managed correctly and provided he avoids long-term injuries.

Arteta recognised Smith Rowe’s form after the win at Newcastle, insisting of the attacker and team-mate Saka: “I know what they are capable of doing. They put a smile on my face. They are developing really well and that is merit to them and their team-mates.

“We try to support them and protect them. Their performances they are putting in are extraordinary.

“The boys support them with the personalities that we have in the dressing room with the senior players and other young players we have and the staff as well, which they need.

“The expectation will be high with them so we have to take them through the right path.

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“It’s a lift for everybody to have that mixture of energy, passion and a little bit of immaturity at times which is good as you don’t play as tense like the senior players. They’re doing really well.”

Given what Smith Rowe is already producing and the form of the only-improving Saka alongside him, Arsenal have real cause for long-term excitement.

Over the next decade, the duo could very well grow into the calibre of players who have previously taken the No 10 and No 7 jerseys – such as Ozil and Alexis Sanchez at their peaks.

Just look at what they’re producing so young. They have grown into important players for Arteta and the club with Saka the stand-out performer even as Arsenal struggled in recent months.

Smith Rowe has not had the same run in the team as Saka yet but it seems the England youth international is only set for more minutes from now on, and giving him the 10 shirt to play them in seems like a no brainer.





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