'I want to be Arsenal's De Bruyne' - Smith Rowe keen to keep impressing Emery

Emile Smith Rowe Arsenal 2018-19
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The 18-year-old has made his first strides into the Gunners first team and spoke exclusively to Goal about his experiences and future aims

Emile Smith Rowe might not have grabbed the headlines like some of his England Under-17 team-mates when they became world champions in 2017, but if his start to life in the Arsenal first team is anything to go by then the Gunners could have a true star on their hands.

Impressive pre-season performances alerted new manager Unai Emery to the Croydon-born teenager's talents, with his fine individual goal against Atletico Madrid in Singapore sending shockwaves around social media and helping him earn a new long-term contract.

“When I was kid I looked up to [Lionel] Messi and [Andries] Iniesta," Smith Rowe told Goal in an exclusive interview. "Watching them play for Barcelona inspired me so much. The link-ups they had and the goals they scored and created were amazing."

That strike against Atletico had plenty of Messi about it as he dribbled past two defenders before rocketing a right-footed shot into the top corner from the edge of the area.

And yet when pressed on which player he aspires to replicate, Smith Rowe instead looks closer to home in the Premier League, albeit to an individual whose passing and dribbling ability is almost unmatched in the English game.

"Someone I inspire to play like is probably Kevin De Bruyne because of the way he plays," he admits.

"I learn so much from the entire coaching staff and players every day. The training sessions are so intense which is really good for me to learn every day.

“I need to stay focused every day, keep learning and keep taking on what all the coaches are telling me.

“I’m obviously in a privileged position to most people but for me it’s about staying focused and getting the right advice from my family and the people around me."

Like most young prodigies, Smith Rowe has had to bide his time when it comes to further first-team opportunities in competitive matches.

Wednesday's night's Carabao Cup clash with League One side Blackpool is set to offer him just his fourth appearance of the season, all of which have come in cup competitions.

He shows no signs of slowing down, however, with his previous outing against Qarabag in the Europa League marking the occasion of his first senior goal .

“It felt great,” Smith Rowe said of the strike in Baku. “I was very happy and it was a dream come true for me, something I’ve dreamt of since I was a kid. It was such a proud moment for me and my family.”

Family is a common theme whenever Smith Rowe speaks, with Emery having previously hailed the 18-year-old's 'humble' attitude to life at one of the world's biggest football clubs.

“I think it’s very important [to have my family and agent around me]," he continues. "Especially when I talk to my family and agent every day.

"Even the little things they do for me are really important but the main thing is to stay focused and keep my feet on the ground.”

Such maturity both on and off the pitch has seen Smith Rowe become something of a beacon for other potential graduates of the club's Hale End academy - a local boy doing all the right things to ensure his career continues on the right trajectory.

“Of course we’re proud,” club legend and current Under-23s coach Freddie Ljungberg told Goal. “The whole academy is proud. Nothing really fazes him. He’s always calm and works really hard in training. He takes steps and steps.

“I think Zech [Medley] was in the squad at Crystal Palace, he had never been before. Now I think we have four more going [against Blackpool]. For us that’s great news of course. It’s harder in games but that’s what we get judged on, trying to get them up there."

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The next step for Smith Rowe is, of course, breaking into the Gunners' Premier League squad on a regular basis. Emery has already shown he is not afraid of blooding youngsters if they are good enough, with Mateo Guendouzi playing a key role at the Emirates Stadium despite arriving from Lorient in the summer having never played a top-flight match before.

“I’m keen to get as many minutes as I can," Smith Rowe says. "With these opportunities I think it can be good for me to gain experience and if I do perform well hopefully I can progress into more important games.”

A young player aware of his limitations and willing to work hard to reach the very top - Arsenal may well have a good one on their hands.