Saka and Smith Rowe’s stock grows by the week, even when they don’t play

Friday night saw Jack Wilshere take to Twitter to carry out a Q&A and, other than firing shots at Barcelona’s entire 2011 midfield, current Arsenal starlets Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka came in for plenty of praise. 

The pair have arguably caused more excitement than any other Arsenal youth graduates since Wilshere first established himself at the Emirates, and they are largely to thank for the recent resurgence seen from Mikel Arteta’s side.

When asked his thoughts on Smith Rowe and whether or not Wilshere saw any of himself in the youngster, Wilshere replied: “He is quicker than I was. He plays with his head up and you don’t see that much. Top player.”

Higher praise was in store for Saka too, as Wilshere declared him to be the best player in the current Arsenal squad.

This weekend saw Arsenal in FA Cup action against Southampton, a tournament they have thoroughly enjoyed over recent years, but despite neither player starting and Smith Rowe left out of the squad entirely, their stock continued to rise.

Sure, this does not say much for the performance of Arsenal’s older statesman. Willian and Nicolas Pepe were both recalled to the starting line-up for the 1-0 loss at St Mary’s, but if anything it only emphasised how integral the young duo have been in recent weeks.

Despite appearing sharp in and around the penalty area, Arsenal struggled badly to create any clearcut chances – something that became a hallmark of Arteta’s side prior to Christmas.

The introduction of Saka for Gabriel Martinelli helped, with a bit more decisive incision finally appearing in the final third, but when he was dragged back into a wing-back role after Alexandre Lacazette replaced Hector Bellerin, any attacking threat was once again snuffed out.

Arsenal badly missed someone capable of getting their foot on the ball in midfield and driving forward, releasing the ball at exactly the right time, and ultimately being the creative catalyst. But with Smith Rowe presumably watching from the comfort of his sofa, there was never much chance of that.

You suspect that Arteta will continue to rotate in his creative roles, no doubt wary of burning out either exciting prospect.

But that will continue to be hard to do if the likes of Willian and Pepe continue to offer so little in that department.

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