Emile Smith Rowe pain-free and primed for Arsenal midfield role after addressing groin problem

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Emile Smith Rowe is finally pain-free having had surgery on a long-standing groin issue; Arsenal youngster excelled last season and could be crucial in the run-in; watch Fulham v Arsenal live on Sky Sports Premier League from 1pm on Sunday; kick-off 2pm

It is a measure of the standards Emile Smith Rowe holds himself to that, in his first two days of full training following groin surgery and a gruelling, three-month injury lay-off in late December, he could be heard berating himself over his performance.

During a small-sided match at the end of the session in question, Smith Rowe had picked up the ball and tried to drive past a team-mate, only to find he couldn’t shake him off, the running power that has long been a feature of his game not quite there yet.


In his desperation to make an instant impact, he wondered whether it was gone for good, a concern which brought smiles from staff members as they explained that, actually, they would be worried about his team-mates if he was immediately breezing past them.

The 22-year-old was reminded to be patient with his body. He had come through a lengthy rehabilitation programme following his operation but, back on the grass, training with a team in peak condition, he would need more time to get up to full speed.

Watch Emile Smith Rowe’s Premier League goals from last season

Happily, that time has now arrived. Arsenal have been cautious with him, managing his workload carefully after he strained his thigh in January, but, to quote William Saliba in a clip from London Colney that circulated online last week: “The Smith is back.”

Last week, he made his first appearance at the Emirates Stadium since August as a late substitute in the 4-0 win over Everton. Since then, an earlier introduction against Bournemouth, followed by more minutes from the bench in the 2-2 draw with Sporting Lisbon.

Pain-free at last after surgery

Smith Rowe is determined to make up for lost time but those close to him reflect on the injury he suffered at Old Trafford back in September as a blessing as well as a curse.

Three months earlier, having finished the previous campaign as Arsenal’s second-highest scorer with 11 goals, he had resolved to come back even stronger, embarking on a pre-pre-season training camp in Spain before reporting back to the club in July.

A minor injury setback interrupted things at that point, meaning he could only be used sparingly in the opening weeks of the season, and it was after that, during Arsenal’s 3-1 loss to Manchester United, that he felt a tear in his groin after coming off the bench that became exacerbated during the warm-down.

Only Bukayo Saka scored more goals than Emile Smith Rowe for Arsenal last season

The feeling of disappointment was acute. Especially as it came at a time when Smith Rowe was registering personal bests in various physical assessments relating to strength and conditioning.

But the fact the tendon was torn, rather than just inflamed, presented an opportunity to undergo surgery and fix, once and for all, the growth-related groin problem that had left him playing with discomfort since his late teens.

“A lot of people might not know, but I have had this injury since I was 18, 19,” he said after appearing as a substitute against Oxford United in January. “It has been quite hard to deal with it over the years, but I am really happy that it is just finally over.


Smith Rowe had learned to manage the discomfort, becoming a key player for his boyhood club in spite of it, but his operation, a procedure previously undergone by Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and Leicester’s Wilfred Ndidi, among others, means he is now pain-free after an at-times challenging four years.

The period of recovery after his surgery tested him, mentally as well as physically, but crucially, the time was not wasted.

Instead, he worked tirelessly behind the scenes, earning praise from Mikel Arteta for his “great attitude” in December. “We have done a lot of things with Emile,” added the Arsenal boss.

One of them was to build him up physically, something which was alluded to in a meeting with Albert Stuivenberg shown in the All or Nothing documentary in which the assistant manager outlined his room for improvement in duels and challenges.

Smith Rowe’s bulked-out frame is a testament to the hours that have gone into it. Arteta and his staff were eager to keep him involved at London Colney. While his team-mates were out on the training pitch, he was clocking long days in the gym, often the first in and last out as he put in extra work on his individual programme.

At the same time, and although already attentive to his diet, Smith Rowe had to place an even greater focus on nutrition, the importance of what he was eating heightened as his groin recovered and his running had to be drastically reduced.

It added to the need for discipline and dedication during those long months on the sidelines but the hope now is that Smith Rowe, and indeed Arsenal, will soon begin to see the benefits.

Training as a central midfielder

Before that, of course, he must win back his place in the team.

Smith Rowe, like his friend and fellow academy graduate Bukayo Saka, became a talisman for the side last season but, with Fabio Vieira and Leandro Trossard added to the squad, Gabriel Martinelli thriving, and Reiss Nelson also impressing, the competition has intensified.

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Bournemouth

More patience may be required but Arteta has already said he expects him to make a “key” contribution in the months ahead and the bigger question is where on the pitch he will do it.

Smith Rowe lined up on the left flank after replacing the injured Trossard against Bournemouth, a game in which he set up the Thomas Partey goal that sparked the comeback, but there is a belief within the club that he is most impactful in central areas.

In fact, since the end of last season, during which he predominantly played off the left, he has been training as one of the two more advanced central midfielders in Arteta’s reconfigured 4-3-3 system.

It offers a clue as to where his future is seen, and it makes sense, too, given how the tactical make-up of Arteta’s team has changed

Emile Smith Rowe celebrates with Reiss Nelson after the 3-2 win over Bournemouth

Last term, Smith Rowe played in front of the overlapping Kieran Tierney, allowing him to drift infield, as is his natural inclination. Now, however, that zone is occupied by Oleksandr Zinchenko, leaving Arsenal’s left winger playing closer to the touchline.

Fortunately, Smith Rowe’s tactical intelligence and versatility are two of his biggest strengths, and the physical and technical capabilities that once led Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher to describe him as the best player in the Premier League when running with the ball ensure he has plenty to offer in any role in which he is needed.

And he will be needed.

His return to fitness has taken longer than hoped, but he is back now, pain-free and stronger, both physically and mentally. Expect him to play his part as the hunt for Premier League glory continues.

Watch Fulham v Arsenal live on Sky Sports Premier League from 1pm on Sunday; kick-off 2pm

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