Emile Smith Rowe believes his gamble to not go out on loan this season is paying off – even if he is still trying to earn his place in the Arsenal first-team dressing room.
The 18-year-old scored his first senior goal for the Gunners as they beat Qarabag 3-0 in their Europa League group E clash in Baku on Thursday night.
Smith Rowe struck Arsenal’s second and killed off any chance of a comeback from the hosts, as Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Matteo Guendouzi also grabbed their maiden goals for the club.
An Under-17 World Cup winner with England last summer, Smith Rowe has now made two starts this season – one in the Carabao Cup win over Brentford and here against Qarabag.
He is yet to feature in the Premier League but went on Arsenal’s pre-season tour to Singapore before deciding to stay and fight for first-team appearances rather than leave on loan.
Asked whether it was a gamble not to move away in the summer, Smith Rowe said: “It was a chance I took and I am happy I have taken it because now he (head coach Unai Emery) is really happy with me, he helps me a lot and to get the chances I am getting now is crazy.
“Now I am really enjoying it. I was enjoying it before but I am getting chances and I am so grateful that the gaffer has got faith in me. I just want to keep improving and keep getting minutes.”
Emery praised Smith Rowe’s mentality after the win at the Baku Olympic Stadium, while the player said he was keen to stay put because he wanted to work under the Spaniard.
Although he has made three appearances so far, Smith Rowe revealed he has yet to be welcomed into the first-team changing room at the club’s London Colney training base.
“I am not actually in the changing room at the training ground,” he said.
“But when I come to games, I look around and can’t believe I’m here. It is still surreal. I change separately, find out about 10 minutes before, just run over and train.”
Smith Rowe has seen his fellow England Under-17 World Cup winner Jadon Sancho called up into the senior squad this week after starring at Borussia Dortmund, with another promising youngster in Mason Mount also included.
Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate is willing to give young players a chance and Smith Rowe now harbours ambitions to get there himself.
“The England youngsters are a very talented bunch of lads,” he added.
“I think in the future there will be a lot of youngsters going through to the first team. Hopefully one day I can be part of the team.
“I’ve played with Sancho. I haven’t played with Mason before. But he is a great player as well.
“It just shows that he (Southgate) wants to play the youngsters and England are changing their way of playing now which is getting really good.”