Mikel Arteta hopes Emile Smith Rowe can “jump on the train fast enough” to have a major impact on Arsenal’s season with the midfielder poised to return after a four-month injury lay-off.
Smith Rowe, sidelined with a groin problem, has been a passenger as title-chasing Arsenal have charged to the summit of the Premier League.
The 22-year-old has featured just four times for the Gunners this season – last appearing as a second-half substitute in Arsenal’s sole league defeat at Manchester United on September 4.
But the England international is in contention for Arsenal’s FA Cup third-round clash at League One Oxford on Monday night. And Arteta has urged the Hale End Academy graduate to take his chance with both hands.
“Emile knows that he has the space in the squad to fulfil his potential,” said Arteta.
“We really like him, I really like and him, and he is a very important player for us.
“But he knows now that he has to jump on the train fast enough to have the impact we all hope he can have on the season for us.
“We need him fit, and at his best, and when we have that, we have an incredible player that we have missed a lot in the past few months.”
Smith Rowe was one of the Gunners’ star performers last season, but, in his absence, Martin Odegaard has cemented his position as Arteta’s number 10 with Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli first choice on the flanks.
Has it been hard for the stricken Smith Rowe to watch on as his team-mates have flourished?
“We have tried to be very close to him, and to give him advice,” said Arteta.
“We have talked about his mood, his energy and how much he has to be living with the team in this period, and he has been really good.
“We have been pretty cautious in the last months, in terms of how we have progressed him in training.
“And at the end of that you have to throw him out there, and he has to be able to absorb the minutes, and that is why we have probably extended his preparation.”
Smith Rowe is set be among a number of changes to Arteta’s starting line-up following three matches – two victories against West Ham and Brighton and a goalless draw at home to Newcastle – in eight days.
Arteta will also have one eye on his side’s crunch north London derby at Tottenham on Sunday.
But the Spaniard will be desperate to avoid a second consecutive third-round exit from the FA Cup following their surprise defeat at Nottingham Forest last season.
“It is a competition that is attached to the successful history of this club and on Monday we have a good test,” added Arteta.
“It will be difficult because Oxford have a bit of everything but it will be a very special night.”
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