Emile Smith Rowe had been on the pitch for just three minutes when he slotted home the final goal of Arsenal’s comprehensive 4-1 win over Rapid Vienna last week.
The 20-year-old attacking midfielder did what has become a rarity for the Gunners this season: he made a run beyond the striker and was rewarded with a tap-in when Ainsley Maitland-Niles rolled the perfect ball into his path.
It was a goal that highlighted what many at Arsenal already knew, that Smith Rowe has that special knack of getting himself in the right place at the right time inside the penalty area.
It also added to the growing number of voices calling for the youngster to be given a go in the Premier League by Mikel Arteta.
Many were hoping Smith Rowe’s goalscoring cameo against Vienna would at least earn him a spot on the bench against Tottenham on Sunday but the Arsenal academy product failed to make the matchday squad for the north London derby.
They won’t have to wait too long to see him in action again, however, with Smith Rowe pushing for his first start of the season on Thursday night, when Arteta’s side complete their Europa League group-stage campaign with a game against Dundalk in Dublin.
At a time when Arsenal are crying out for goal threat and creativity in the final third, it represents an ideal opportunity for the England Under-20 international to stake his claim for a chance in the Premier League.
Considering it’s been more than two years since Smith Rowe made his senior debut with a late substitute appearance against Vorskla in the Europa League, it is perhaps surprising that a player who has been dubbed 'The Croydon De Bruyne’ by fans has only amassed 15 senior appearances for the Gunners.
However, there have been two loan spells during that time: one injury-ridden stint in Germany with RB Leipzig and another far more successful stay at Huddersfield during the second half of last season.Getty/Goal
He featured 19 times for the Terriers and played a major role in keeping them in the Championship, even scoring the goal against West Brom in July that effectively guaranteed their safety.
“Emile is a young boy who has the world at his feet,” said Danny Cowley, the former Huddersfield boss who was in charge of Smith Rowe at the John Smith’s Stadium.
“He has that ability to find space. He could find space in a telephone box. He speeds the play up for you and draws and commits. He’s just a really lovely player.”
Smith Rowe has been with Arsenal since he was 10, progressing through the Hale End academy in various attacking positions, even operating as a striker at times.
However, as he got older, he started to make a name for himself in a central role behind the forwards, and it’s there where he now feels at home.
“I enjoy playing at No.10 the most,” he said. “I love driving towards goal with the ball.
“Some people have compared my playing style to Kevin De Bruyne’s and that’s a very nice compliment because he’s a great player and someone I really look up to.
“I’m trying to learn as much as I can from watching De Bruyne and working hard in training with all of the world-class players around me.”
After making such an impression while on loan at Huddersfield last season, many believed 2020-21 would be a breakthrough campaign for Smith Rowe under Arteta, but injuries have hampered his progress.
A troublesome shoulder problem saw him have to wait until November for his first outing of the campaign, but he marked the occasion with an assist in Arsenal’s 3-0 win at Molde in the Europa League. And he followed that up with a goal in his next appearance, against Vienna last week.
In all, Smith Rowe has found the net four times in his 15 senior appearances for Arsenal, with just nine of those coming as starts.
He is one of the few players in the Arsenal squad who has the ability to run with the ball from deep, who can pick a pass and get on the scoresheet himself.
With Arsenal presently struggling for goals, he has all the attributes that could make a big difference for Arteta’s struggling side.
“Emile is a player with an incredible talent,” said the Gunners boss. “He’s a player with very specific qualities to play in those pockets in that position as an attacking midfielder.
“Mentally, it is always a challenge because the demands are so high and you need to hit those high levels to become an Arsenal player. So, it's down to him as well.
“But I really like him and he’s a player that if we are a little bit patient [with], we have a great player there.”
Patience is something Smith Rowe has had to show a lot of in the past couple of years, with injuries stifling his development and drastically limiting his opportunities at Arsenal.
But he's now fully fit and has a real chance to force his way into Arteta’s plans.
A strong performance at Dundalk would see those calling for the ‘Croydon de Bruyne’ to be unleashed in the Premier League become even tougher to ignore.