Mikel Arteta has credited Emile Smith Rowe with playing a significant role in helping turn his Arsenal tenure around during a period in which many fans were doubting his credentials.
The Gunners were in the midst of a 56-day winless run back in December 2020, a period during which Arsenal suffered a succession of embarrassing home defeats against Aston Villa, Wolves and Burnley and Manchester City in the Carabao Cup.
Calls for Arteta to be sacked intensified ahead of Chelsea’s visit to the Emirates Stadium on Boxing Day and, faced with a spate of injuries, the under-pressure former club captain was forced to pick a makeshift side.
In the absences of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Willian, youngsters Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Smith Rowe, making his first Premier League start, all starred in a 3-1 victory that set the tone for what was to follow.
‘There was a huge wall, it was really difficult for them,’ said Arteta, reflecting on one of the most testing periods of his tenure.
‘That game came at a really important moment. I don’t like to single out a player, but I think probably Emile Smith Rowe – that is the moment where he really appears into the picture and something changed and that helped shift momentum big time.’
It has still taken another two years and significant investment for Arteta to produce a side capable of challenging the domestic elite on a consistent basis.
Arteta’s rapidly improving team will, however, head into the break for the World Cup top of the Premier League should they win against Wolves at Molineux this evening.
‘It’s special,’ said Arteta of Wolves’ situation with the struggling Midlands club playing their final game for the arrival of Julen Lopetegui as their new manager.
‘Obviously, they are in a moment as well with very special circumstances. I think Steve has done a really good job looking at the games they have played.
We were watching the midweek game they played and the game before that they lost not really meriting to lose the game. We know, Saturday night at the stadium will be busy and it will be a tough game.
On Lopetegui’s imminent arrival, Arteta added: ‘He’s a great coach, his career talks for itself, what he did at Sevilla, what he did in Portugal, what he did for the national team.
‘He’s a really good coach, [he’s from] not far from where I live, so I know him really, really well and hopefully after tomorrow he can have a very successful period here.’
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