The beaming smile said it all. Emile Smith Rowe had just delivered a brilliant strike into the bottom corner and with that decisive shot from his right boot, a whole charge of frustration seemed to evaporate.
Frustration with the groin injury which required surgery and prevented him from continuing his best season in an Arsenal shirt. Frustration he couldn’t get more senior England opportunities.
Frustration that when he finally returned to full fitness, Mikel Arteta’s Gunners side were winning and the manager was understandably reluctant to change it.
After being Arsenal’s second top scorer in an excellent 2021-22 season, Smith Rowe has failed to start a single game of the 2022-23 campaign through no fault of his own.
But the ongoing European Under-21 Championship in Georgia saw him score twice in England’s opening two games, helping them secure a place in the quarter-finals with one game to spare.
Emile Smith Rowe (left) celebrates with Ben Johnson after scoring for England against Israel in the European Under-21 Championship on Sunday night
The Arsenal man also scored as England beat Czechia 2-0 in their first group game
It raises the question of whether Smith Rowe can reclaim his place at Arsenal after the 2022-23 campaign saw him fail to start just one game.
He came off the bench to score England’s second goal in the 2-0 win over Czechia, then completed a deft pass to double their lead against Israel on Sunday night.
Gareth Southgate was watching from the stands in Kutaisi and Smith Rowe was asked about his prospects to regain his senior position thereafter.
Sensibly, the 22-year-old was keen to achieve his goals in the right order – namely to win this tournament – and England appear to have a superb chance – and then regain his place at Arsenal.
Given his undoubted talent, if he pulls off the latter, England fans might just sing along to the catchy vocals about him and Bukayo Saka to the tune of Status Quo. Rockin’ all over the world still quite early.
As for winning back his place at Arsenal, the good news is that Arteta has no intention of letting him go despite the struggles of last season.
Mail Sport reported earlier this month that Smith Rowe has been told he is part of Arsenal’s plans for next season despite being linked with West Ham, Aston Villa and Brighton.
Rightly so, really, given that he has a contract until 2026 and his injury layoff from September to early January was necessary to fix a lingering problem.
The concern is that when Smith Rowe was fully fit again, after suffering another unrelated setback in February, Arteta limited him to just a few minutes off the bench.
Mikel Arteta brought Smith Rowe back from injury, only playing him from the substitutes’ bench
The midfielder hopes his performances at the European Under-21 Championship will impress Arteta and earn him more starts next season.
The Gunners’ planned midfield overhaul this summer will mean fierce competition for Smith Rowe and his starting spot will be far from guaranteed.
If he’s in a central position, you’d imagine Martin Odegaard takes precedence as captain after his impressive performances in Arsenal’s unexpected – but ultimately unsuccessful – Premier League title run.
Declan Rice, if he completes his £100m move from West Ham, fills another of the midfield slots in a deep role.
Then there’s Jorginho, who started regularly after arriving from Chelsea, as well as Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey, although either or both could leave.
Then you have Kai Havertz, likely to come from Chelsea in a £65million deal.
Captain Martin Odegaard (left) is a surefire choice next season in an attacking midfield role
Kai Havertz could also be on his way from Chelsea to Arsenal in a deal worth £65m
He was used as a No.9 at Chelsea last season because they didn’t have a reliable centre-forward, but he’s really best placed just behind a striker, just like another to step on Smith’s toes Rowe.
Smith Rowe has held wide attacking positions before, but Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Leandro Trossard seem to have those roles well defined.
So as much as Arteta wants to stick with a player who played for him when Arsenal weren’t as good as they were last season, it’s hard to imagine Smith Rowe starting on a regular basis.
This huge outlay on new players also stems from an overwhelming sense of what could have been at the end of last season.
They held a sizable lead over Manchester City going into the title chase, but lost their lead under pressure.
The form of Bukayo Saka (left) and Gabriel Martinelli (middle) makes a wide role unlikely
Unfortunately, Smith Rowe could once again be limited to substitute appearances unless he really seizes his chance at the start of next season.
Arteta will be determined to ensure his challenge is not a mere one-season wonder and is therefore looking for upgrades in key positions. Manchester United, Newcastle, Liverpool and Chelsea will all surely push them next season, not to mention City.
So when Smith Rowe gets his chance, he can’t afford to be wrong. The reality is that if he is consigned to the bench again for long spells at the start of the season, a move in January would be the best option to advance his career.
But while he shines at the Under-21 Euros, blonde locks in his hair and rockets in his boots, Smith Rowe is back and ready to fight for this place.