In pictures: Arsenal v Aston Villa
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Mikel Arteta will have been singing the praises of Arsenal director Edu for his decision to keep hold of Emile Smith Rowe after Friday evening’s win over Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium. The Gunners stretched their unbeaten run to seven matches in all competitions with a commanding performance on home soil, with Smith Rowe on the scoresheet alongside Thomas Partey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Arsenal raced into the lead inside 25 minutes through Partey, who nodded home from a corner before Aubameyang doubled his side’s advantage on the stroke of half-time.
Smith Rowe went on to add a brilliant third for the hosts, finishing off a lovely counter-attacking move for his second goal in the Premier League this season.
Jacob Ramsey’s late consolation made the scoreline slightly less one-sided but the visitors were firmly second-best throughout the encounter, with Arsenal taking a deserved three points at the final whistle.
A number of players starred for the Gunners over the course of the 90 minutes, but it was Smith Rowe who arguably shone brightest in his creative role in the middle of the park.
It has been a breakthrough campaign for the Croydon-born maestro after Arsenal decided against selling him to Villa during pre-season.
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The west Midlands outfit lodged at least two bids for Smith Rowe, with their second offer understood to be in the region of £30million.
However, Edu and Arteta stood firm in their opposition to letting him leave, instead making him a key player and handing him the No 10 shirt to reflect his value to the club.
Smith Rowe was also given a new five-year contract in north London, serving as clear evidence of Arteta’s belief in his side’s young players.
The playmaker has gone on to start in all but one of Arsenal’s league fixtures this season, establishing a stronghold on the attacking midfield role ahead of summer signing Martin Odegaard in the process.
He managed a goal and an assist on Friday evening against Villa, with his performance underlining his newly-found importance to the side and justifying Edu’s decision to keep him around for the foreseeable future.
Dean Smith will have been left wondering what might have been if Villa had been able to tempt Smith Rowe into a change of scenery, with the Arsenal man head and shoulders above any visiting player on the pitch.
His involvement in the club’s third goal of the night showed exactly why he is widely considered as one of the finest Hale End graduates in recent memory.
Smith Rowe intercepted a sloppy pass from John McGinn deep in Arsenal’s half before charging up the left flank as his team-mates combined to play out of trouble.
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He still needed to find the back of the net by the time the ball was returned to him by Aubameyang, with the 21-year-old duly obliging to cap off an excellent performance with a deserved goal.
It remains to be seen whether Smith Rowe will be able to maintain his current form over the course of the season, with Arsenal still far from the finished product as they seek a return to the Premier League’s upper reaches.
However, it seems as though Edu’s decision to retain his services was an inspired one, with the youngster set to play a key role in midfield between now and the end of the campaign.
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