Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has challenged Emile Smith Rowe to add more goals to his game and become one of the best number 10s in Europe.
The 20-year-old has been in fine form since breaking into the first team at the turn of the year but only opened his Premier League account with the first goal in a 3-1 win over West Brom on Sunday. The result relegated the Baggies as Smith Rowe turned home a cross from fellow academy graduate Bukayo Saka before Nicolas Pepe and Willian added further fine efforts either side of a Matheus Pereira consolation.
It also means Arsenal have an outside chance of achieving European qualification for next season heading into the final three matches of the campaign.
Smith Rowe had been tipped as an outsider for England’s Euro 2020 squad but missed out on a place in the March qualifiers and now looks set to spend the summer at home.
But Arteta believes the Croydon-born midfielder has the potential to become one of the best in his position in the coming years.
“He’s having an incredible season ever since he started to play in December,” Arteta said when asked if Smith Rowe’s maiden Premier League goal will be the first of many.
“But he’s scoring his first Premier League goal. An incredible season for a number 10 of Arsenal means he needs to score 15 goals and give 10 assists.
“Then you are right up there with the top guys in Europe and in the league. He’s got the ability to do it but he hasn’t done it.
“We need to stay calm with him, give him the right support and step by step I think he will be getting there.”
Smith Rowe limped off in the second half of Sunday’s win and Arteta revealed he “felt something in his hamstring” and that the Under-21 international has recently been struggling with cramps.
His team-mates are also setting high goals for Smith Rowe, with Willian impressed with what he has seen since joining from Chelsea last summer.
“He is a fantastic player and I think he has a great future for sure,” the Brazil forward said.
“He has technique and everything to become one of the best players in the league and I am happy for him.”
While Smith Rowe toasted his first Premier League goal, for Willian his last-minute free-kick saw him break his Arsenal duck.
The 32-year-old was signed on a free transfer to much fanfare last year but has struggled throughout his first campaign for the Gunners.
“It was difficult, I am the first to admit that,” he said when asked about the season.
“When I don’t play well I am the first to criticise me and me and my family, we know how difficult it was for me this season.
“But I never put in doubt what I can bring to this team – my quality, what I can do and I finally scored this beautiful goal and let’s keep going.”