Arsenal attacker Emile Smith Rowe says he is now “stronger” both physically and mentally after making his first start of the season in the Gunners’ 1-0 Carabao Cup win away at Brentford.
The 23-year-old made his first start in a competitive match for the club in 499 days, largely owing to surgery he underwent almost exactly a year ago on a recurring groin injury that ruled him out for a large patch of the 2022/23 season.
The Arsenal no. 10 completed 82 minutes at the Gtech Community Stadium, showing familiar flashes of quality in his 100th appearance for the club, and even came close to scoring in the first-half after some brilliant build-up play.
Speaking on how it felt to start, and the struggles he’s endured to regain full fitness, Smith Rowe said:
“It’s been a long time. It’s definitely a relief for me. It’s been hard over the last 499 days or so with injuries and stuff. And I’m not quite getting back into the team, but I’m really happy to be fully fit now and just push on from there.
“It was a really tough period: having surgery for the first time, [and then] having a setback once I got back onto the pitch. But this is football, you got to face these challenges, you have ups and downs, and I feel like I’m better now. But it was really challenging for me, and I’ve come out the other side really fit.
“I had the whole team behind me when I was going through surgery and stuff. They all had my back and I obviously had my family and friends there as well. So, it definitely made me mentally stronger.”
The England international also mentioned how his mentality has shifted over the past year, as he feels Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has played an integral part in supporting him through his recovery, whilst also strengthening the player’s confidence in his own ability.
“I’ve had to change a bit of my mentality so that I can now just to go for it and say I’ve really got nothing to lose. I’ve tried to change that side of me, and I used to have a lot of doubts.
“I used to question my confidence at times. But now, I’m really strong, and feeling really fit.
“I think maybe the gaffer [Arteta] really helped me with that. He was helping me through my injury and often pulled me for chats about how I can be mentally stronger and try to support the boys as much as I could when I couldn’t help them on the pitch. It was really challenging but I’m stronger now.”
Smith Rowe’s newfound mental fortitude may indeed be necessary to regain a place in Arsenal’s regular first-choice eleven, amid fierce competition for places within the squad in the attacking positions. Nevertheless, the 23-year-old is keen to make a very strong stake for increased game-time whenever he trains, heading into the next few games.
“Being at a massive club like Arsenal, we know there’s so much competition. It’s always going to be challenging and always going to be difficult to cement your place in the team. But I think it’s just that extra push for me.
“I’m in such a talented team with so much quality, so I’ve got to stay patient and wait for my chance. It’s been hard, sometimes not coming on and being left disappointed.
“But this is life, this is football, we’ve got to keep going. But I really believe [in] myself now. And I have the right people around me, and around the club, who are always willing to help every day in training and off the pitch. You keep working hard, keep fighting. And hard work pays off, so I’ve just got to keep believing in myself.
“And then I’m sure the chances will come.”