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Smith Rowe's England snub is baffling - Arsenal star is Southgate's most in-form attacker

08:00 GMT 08/11/2021
Smith Rowe Southgate Arsenal England GFX
The Gunners playmaker has scored in each of his last three games and been key to Mikel Arteta's side's revival, but was snubbed by the Three Lions

Emile Smith Rowe joined some illustrious company on Sunday afternoon.

When the Arsenal playmaker struck 11 minutes into the second half against Watford, he became only the fourth player aged 21 or under to score for the Gunners in three successive Premier League games.

The others? Nicolas Anelka, Jose Antonio Reyes and Cesc Fabregas.

It was just the latest chapter in an increasingly impressive story Smith Rowe is writing for himself this season.

In his last three league games, Smith Rowe has now found the net against Aston Villa, Leicester City and Watford.

Arsenal have taken a maximum nine points from those games, with Sunday’s 1-0 victory against the Hornets moving them up to fifth in the table, just six points behind leaders Chelsea.

Mikel Arteta’s side have now stretched their unbeaten run to 10 games in all competitions, with Smith Rowe at the very heart of that success.

And his latest match-winning contribution makes his omission from Gareth Southgate’s England squad all the more baffling.

"Emile, Conor Gallagher and Marc Guehi are all playing very well with their clubs, but we’ve got depth," Southgate explained earlier this week, when quizzed on three notable absentees from the Three Lions' squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Albania and San Marino. "To put those in we’ve got to leave some out.

"I think the boys I’ve mentioned are on a really good path, we like them, but at the moment we think it’s a little bit early."

Some may look at those comments and view them as wise, but they make a mockery of Southgate’s long held stance that he picks players purely based on current form.

Because if he did that, then Smith Rowe would now be preparing for his first ever link-up with the senior squad, rather than heading off with the Under-21s.

Southgate may have plenty of talented young attackers at his disposal, but none of them are in as good a form as Arsenal’s young No.10.

Since the start of September, no English player has had as many direct Premier League goal involvements as Smith Rowe, who has six - four goals and two assists.

"Gareth made the call," Arteta said following Sunday’s win against Watford, when asked about Southgate’s decision to leave the 21-year-old out. "He knows Emile really well and I’m sure he’s got a plan for him.

"It’s important to be patient and to go step by step, and when he makes that step, don’t force it. Make sure it’s a secure and safe step before you make that next move."

Arteta’s public stance on the issue is understandable, but privately he must be as baffled as everyone else at Smith Rowe’s continued omission, especially with Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling both making the squad despite not being regular starters at their clubs.

There is even an argument that on current form, he should even be in ahead of his team-mate and fellow Arsenal academy graduate Bukayo Saka.

The main thing for Arteta, however, is that Smith Rowe continues to perform for Arsenal.

He stepped up just when his team needed him on Sunday to break Watford’s resistance and ensure a sixth win in eight Premier League for the Gunners.

Since they were demolished 5-0 at Manchester City at the end of August, Arsenal have taken 20 points from a possible 24.

They have scored 13 goals in that time and conceded just four, with Sunday’s clean sheet the fifth they have kept in their last eight games.

A team that were rock bottom of the Premier League two months ago, now sit just two points off the Champions League places.

The turnaround has been remarkable, and Arteta’s side will now go to Liverpool after the international break believing they have a good chance of getting something from their trip to Anfield, and knowing that a win will see them leapfrog the Anfield outfit in the table.

It will be a game that will give us a good indicator of exactly where this new look Arsenal are under Arteta.

"Winning before the international break is always great," the Arsenal boss said after Watford had been seen off at the weekend. "It keeps the momentum going and the atmosphere good.

"We expected a certain game-plan from Watford. That is going to happen and you have to go through that.

"You have to be consistent and you have to be determined with what you want to achieve in the game.

"We never lost sight of that and I believe that's why we won."

Arsenal were not at their best on Sunday, but they found a way to get the job done - something that might not have done a couple of months ago.

Ben White - another player inexplicably overlooked by Southgate - was immense at the back, alongside the equally impressive Gabriel.

White had more touches (101) than any other Arsenal player and made more passes (81). He also made the most clearances (six), blocks (three) and interceptions (two).

It was a complete performance from the 24-year-old, who is looking like a better signing by the week.

Southgate may continue to overlook him, but that will be of no concern to Arteta - who will be able to spend the next fortnight working on White and Gabriel’s burgeoning partnership at London Colney.

Along with Aaron Ramsdale, the two central defenders have been the rock that Arsenal’s revival has been built on during the past two months.

Their form has given Arteta’s side the solid base that they had been lacking in the early weeks of the season, and that has given the forwards the chance to express themselves going forward.

Arsenal look like a proper team, and in White and Smith Rowe they have two young English stars playing at the very top of their game.

It is just a shame the national team manager has not seemed to notice.