Emile Smith Rowe has revealed that he had to overcome his fear of playing in front of an audience when he broke through to the Arsenal first team.
The 21-year-old earned his first senior call-up in England this week after Marcus Rashford and James Ward-Prowse withdrew, rewarding a fine campaign with the Gunners, which saw him score four goals and two assists in the club’s opening season. 11 Premier League matches.
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Smith Rowe made his first League start under Mikel Arteta — and only the second of his career — in a 3-1 win over Chelsea on Boxing Day last year since he established himself as a fixture, signing a new five-year deal contract and took over the number 10 shirt previously worn by Mesut Ozil.
The midfielder admitted he inadvertently took advantage of the absence of fans due to COVID-19 restrictions at the time amid fears dating back to his formative days prior to a difficult loan spell at Red Bull Leipzig in the first half of 2019.
“It was a big game, but there are no fans who really helped me,” he said. “I’m always very nervous before the game and I don’t have the pressure of everyone yelling, that helped me a lot. I’m happy with the way things are going.
“I’m quite surprised to be honest it turned out this way. I didn’t think I would be as confident as I am now. It’s always extra special to play for the Emirates anyway.”
“Maybe two seasons ago, just before I went to Leipzig, it had an effect on me. I think I’m fine now. I haven’t really changed anything. I think I’m always very nervous before a game. Maybe it will help “Maybe it’s a good thing. It’s mainly in the dressing room before the game. That’s when I’m most nervous. I’ve talked to a number of players and they also say the same thing.”
Arteta claimed last month that Smith Rowe’s progress was due to certain lifestyle changes and the player himself confirmed that he realized several nutritional improvements were needed.
“I didn’t eat that well to be honest,” Smith Rowe said. “I used to get cramps after 60 minutes and stuff. I didn’t eat great, I didn’t drink very well, I wasn’t that well hydrated before the games, but since then I’ve tried to focus on it like that.
“My family also helped me a lot around the house, cooking for me. It was mainly my diet, nutrition and things like that. That really helped me.
“She [Arsenal] are strict but i didnt really listen to be honest i think i went wrong there. But now I listen all the time. “I love Nandos very much. Maybe I’m a bit tired of that. I’ve tried to cut out as much chocolate and takeaway as possible. I always eat at home now.”
Arsenal have arranged for a personal chef to cook for the Smith Rowe family each evening at home as the club are looking to develop a player who could have ended up with another London rival had things turned out differently.
Smith Rowe’s father, Les, is a Tottenham Hotspur fan, but as an eight-year-old growing up in Croydon – mainly an area synonymous with Crystal Palace – he had a trial period at Chelsea.
“At that time I was quite short, very skinny and kept getting pushed off the ball,” he said. “I didn’t interfere and didn’t hit the ball enough, that’s how it felt at the time, why I couldn’t get in.”
Smith Rowe joined Arsenal at the age of nine and resisted Tottenham’s interest about six years later, having supported the Gunners all his life due to his brother’s loyalty and at the time had links with several players including Bukayo Saka .
Smith Rowe watched as Saka was racially insulted after being one of three black players to miss the England final during England’s final penalty shoot-out against Italy.
“I tried to give him some space first,” he added. “Obviously he was on vacation and all. After a few weeks I messaged him. It was obviously hard to see one of my best friends at Arsenal.”
“It was definitely hard to watch. But when he came back, everyone was standing around him. Nobody talked about it. We tried to forget about it and move on and focus on the season. But Bukayo is a strong person and he will bounce back – and he certainly has.”