Emile Smith Rowe enjoyed something of a break-out season last term. The attacking midfielder, who made his senior competitive debut for The Gunners back in 2018 against Vorskla Poltava in Europa League, was a bright spark in an inconsistent season for Arteta’s men in 2020/2021. The 20-year-old Croydon native managed almost 2,500 minutes of action, including 20 Premier League and 11 Europa League appearances that yielded 3 goals and 8 assists in total.
The recent news that Smith Rowe has signed a new long-term contract will have been music to the ears of Gunners fans and, based on his displays last season, it’s easy to see why so many are excited to see how Smith Rowe progresses over the next few years. With talent like this coming through, an Arsenal top-four finish at 9/2 looks like good value, especially if taken via the 888Sport sign up offer that offers punters up to £30 in free bets.
Notably, Smith Rowe has been handed the number 10 shirt for the forthcoming season. This is a clear sign of his central importance to Mikel Arteta’s plans, and also recognition of a special talent who will now walk in the footsteps of some recent Arsenal greats (and some not-so-greats) who also donned the number 10 shirt.
The first two 10s to mention are probably the two held in the highest regard by Gunners fans today, namely messrs Merson and Bergkamp. Paul Merson was a dazzlingly talented playmaker for whom creating magic on the pitch was simple bread and butter. He also had the personality to match and that certainly helped him earn his place in the pantheon of Arsenal’s all-time greats.
Any talk of all-time Arsenal greats would be pointless without discussing Denis Bergkamp. Would Thierry Henry have scored as many as he did without the Flying Dutchman laying them on a plate for him? I mean, yes, Thierry probably would have done because he was just that good, but Bergkamp’s 94 Premier League assists really do speak for themselves. Bafflingly, the player to take Bergkamp’s vacated number 10 shirt upon his retirement was of course… centre-back William Gallas. Not a classic 10 by any stretch of the imagination.
A controversial 10 is up next, not for his time at Highbury and The Emirates, but rather for the manner of his departure to Manchester United having just won the Premier League golden boot in a scintillating 30-goal Arsenal season. Yes, it’s Bergkamp’s compatriot Robin Van Persie. He’s not held in such high esteem as Merson and Bergkamp for the reason just mentioned, but there’s no doubting his supreme abilities. He suited Wengerball and Wengerball suited him, and he left a pretty stunning highlight reel of his time in North London – that silly volley at The Valley being this writer’s favourite RVP strike.
The final two recent 10s of note are perhaps the most disappointing, for different reasons. Everyone remembers that Jack Wilshere performance at Camp Nou, right? He never really managed to hit those heights often enough for Arsenal, largely because of a dismal injury record but also surely in part because of the extreme pressure that any promising young England footballer is put under.
Finally, we turn to arguably one of the most gifted number 10s in world football over the last 20 years – Mesut Özil. Though his relationship with club and fans soured somewhat over the last few years prior to his eventual move to Fenerbahçe in January 2021, there was little doubt at the time that the German was well worth the reported £42.5 million fee that Arsenal paid Real Madrid to secure his services in 2013.
Özil provided some glorious individual moments for Arsenal, not least that wonderful solo goal at Ludogorets Razgrad, but did not replicate the consistent form that saw him top the La Liga assist charts three years running for Real.