Mikel Arteta was encouraged by Emile Smith Rowe’s performance on his first start for Arsenal in 499 days, but has warned he still isn’t ready to play a full 90 minutes.
The talented midfielder’s career has been badly impacted by a groin injury that limited him to a handful of substitute appearances last season.
Smith Rowe appeared to have overcome his fitness issues by playing a full part in England’s success at the European Under-21 Championships over the summer and featured prominently in pre-season.
The summer arrival of Kai Havertz and improved form of Fabio Vieira has resulted in limited opportunities again so far this season, but the Hale End Academy graduate gave a timely reminder of his ability in last night’s 1-0 victory over Brentford.
Smith Rowe was withdrawn in the closing stages with the Gunners looking to protect a narrow advantage and Arteta revealed he will continue to use the 23-year-old cautiously in the coming weeks.
He said: ‘I think he had really good moments in the first half, and the game was much easier for him.
‘The way he was developing with his qualities, and the game we started to play after five or ten minutes in the second half, and then after he was struggling more.
‘Physically, he’s still not there to play 90 minutes, we have to bear in mind that we have four or five players in that field. That was big concern for us today in the line-up, because we have seven at Colney that are not fit now.
‘He’s got different qualities to the other attacking midfielders, he’s great to have him.
‘We need him at his best, and now he’s starting to get some rhythm and minutes which is really good for the team.’