Arsenal 2 Luton 0: Smith Rowe shines as Arteta's much-needed rotation pays off

Arsenal returned to the top of the English Premier League after beating Luton Town 2-0 on Wednesday evening.

A Martin Odegaard goal and an own goal from Daiki Hashioka ensured Arsenal kept up the pressure on title rivals Liverpool and Manchester City, with Mikel Arteta's side now one point behind Jurgen Klopp's side, having played a game more.

here, The athlete James McNicholas breaks down the key talking points from the match.

Smith Rowe more than justifies the surprise choice

The transfer window has been closed for two months, but Arsenal appear to have secured a new player in the round on Wednesday evening in Emile Smith Rowe.

His inclusion in the starting line-up was certainly a surprise: this was his first Premier League start since January, and he has spent the last four games as an unused substitute.

Starting as the number 8 on the left side, Smith Rowe (top picture) was involved in both of Arsenal's goals in the first half – he stole the ball from Billy Ruddock Mpanzo in the lead-up to Odegaard's opener and in the second he reached the byline and pulled the ball back before laying it down. Hashioka in his own net.

Smith Rowe creates the second goal (David Price/Arsenal via Getty Images)

Although Smith Rowe's quality on the ball is not in doubt, Arteta would have been very happy with his work off the ball. Shortly after the first goal, he made an important intervention inside the Arsenal penalty area and it looks like he may now be starting to get to grips with this new role in midfield.

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The 23-year-old's night might have been better, but his goalbound shot deflected into the reach of Luton goalkeeper Tomas Kaminski.

A confident and fit Smith Rowe provides Arteta another level of versatility and depth during the most crucial period of the season.

Arsenal are the bullies on a consistent trajectory once again

Arsenal's brace against Luton means they have now scored 25 goals against the three newly promoted Premier League sides in the 2023-24 season. This surpasses the competition record of 24 matches also set by Arsenal in the 2012-13 season.

This iteration of Arsenal appears to have become effective bullies. One of Arteta's frequent demands from his team is to show 'dominance', and they have certainly dominated their matches against the new boys in the Premier League this season – winning six out of six and conceding just four times.

Their progress is evidenced by the fact that in Arteta's first full season (2020-21), they have scored 15 goals against the three promoted teams. The additional 10 goals they have scored this season have contributed to a significant increase in their goal difference, which now stands at +48 (best in the league).

That could give them a decisive advantage over Manchester City and Liverpool if the title race continues this close.

Arteta's clever patching is working ahead of the vital tour

Arteta made an uncharacteristic number of changes against Luton, rotating his squad significantly as Arsenal embarked on an intense period of high-stakes matches.

The Arsenal manager made five changes to the starting lineup that faced Manchester City, including Oleksandr Zinchenko, Thomas Partey, Smith Rowe, Leandro Trossard and Reiss Nelson (who started a Premier League match for the first time since July 2020).

Nelson on the ball against Luton (Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images)

It was the first time Arsenal had made as many as five changes to the starting lineup in successive Premier League matches since Arteta made seven changes for a 1-0 win over Norwich in September 2021. That was an important game – after losing the first three games. . In the 2021-22 season, Arteta revamped his squad to relaunch the project. In some ways, it was the origin of the team that is now competing for the title.

With Arsenal leading 2-0 at half-time, Arteta was free to make more changes in the second half. Eddie Nketiah suffered an injury at centre-forward, while Gabriel Martinelli and Takehiro Tomiyasu came on to continue their injury rehabilitation. It was an impressive display of depth.

Perhaps Arteta felt this was the right moment to pivot. Given Arsenal's tough fixture list, they may not be able to make many changes for the remainder of the season.

What did Arteta say?

Speaking to TNT Sports, the Arsenal manager said: “Very happy. It was a really difficult game, and the credit for that goes to Luton, they are a good team and they made it difficult for us.

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“We scored two really good goals in the first half. In the second half, because of the way they played, we didn't get the right rhythm (but) I'm very happy with the players who came in, they made the difference.

“Now we have a bigger squad with almost everyone fit and available. It's a busy month, we started well again after the international break and the next game is Brighton.”

What's next for Arsenal?

Saturday 6 April: Brighton & Hove Albion (away), Premier League, 5.30pm GMT, 12.30pm ET

Arsenal are bidding to achieve a season double over Brighton, after beating them 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium before Christmas. A repeat of last season's 4-2 win on the South Coast would be very welcome.

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(Top image: David Price/Arsenal via Getty Images)

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