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


Arsenal moved back to the top of the Premier League after beating Luton Town 2-0 at home on Wednesday evening.

A goal from Martin Odegaard and an own goal from Daiki Hashioka ensured Arsenal kept the pressure on title rivals Liverpool and Manchester City and Mikel Arteta’s team are now a point clear of Jurgen Klopp’s side, having played a game more.

Here, The Athletic’s James McNicholas analyses the key talking points from the game.


Smith Rowe more than justifies surprise selection

The transfer window has been closed for two months, but it feels like Arsenal gained a new player for the run-in on Wednesday night in the form of Emile Smith Rowe.

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

Starting as the left-sided No 8, Smith Rowe (top image) was involved in both of Arsenal’s first-half goals — he robbed Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu of possession in the lead up to Odegaard’s opener and for the second he reached the byline and pulled the ball back before Hashioka put it in his own net.

smith rowe og scaled e1712175541735


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

While Smith Rowe’s quality on the ball is not in question, Arteta would arguably have been most pleased by his work out of possession. Shortly after the first goal, he made an import tackle inside Arsenal’s penalty area and it seems that he may now be getting to grips with this new midfield role.

The Englishman’s night might have been even better, but his goalbound shot was deflected into Luton goalkeeper Thomas Kaminiski’s reach.

A confident, fit Smith Rowe provides Arteta with another level of variety and depth for the season’s most crucial period.


Arsenal are flat-track bullies again

Arsenal’s two goals against Luton mean they have now scored 25 times against the three newly-promoted teams in the Premier League in 2023-24. This surpasses the record in the competition of 24, which was also set by Arsenal — in 2012-13.

It seems this iteration of Arsenal are becoming effective flat-track bullies. One of Arteta’s frequent demands from his team is to exhibit “dominance”, and the team have certainly dominated their games against the Premier League’s new boys in this campaign — winning six out of six and conceding just four times.

Their progress is demonstrated by the fact that in Arteta’s first full season (2020-21), they scored 15 goals against the three promoted teams. The extra 10 they have registered this season has massively helped their goal difference, which now stands at +48 (the best in the league).

That could give them a crucial advantage over Manchester City and Liverpool if the title fight continues to be this close.

Most goals v promoted sides in PL season

Team Season Goals scored Promoted sides

2023-24

25

Burnley, Sheff Utd & Luton

2012-13

24

Reading, Southampton & West Ham

2003-04

21

Portsmouth, Leicester & Wolves

2011-12

21

QPR, Norwich & Swansea

1999-00

21

Sunderland, Bradford & Watford


Arteta’s sensible tinkering works out ahead of vital run

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

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

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

It was the first time Arsenal have made as many as five changes to a starting XI in consecutive Premier League games since Arteta made seven for a 1-0 win over Norwich in September 2021. That was a significant game — after losing the first three matches of the 2021-22 campaign, Arteta revamped his team to relaunch the project. In some respects, it was the genesis of the team that is now contesting the title.

With Arsenal 2-0 up by half-time, Arteta was free to make more changes in the second half. Eddie Nketiah got a run-out at centre-forward, while Gabriel Martinelli and Takehiro Tomiyasu came on to continue their rehabilitation from injury. It was an impressive demonstration of depth.

Perhaps Arteta sensed this was the moment to rotate. Looking at Arsenal’s challenging fixture list, they may not be able to make quite so many changes in the remainder of the season.


What did Arteta say?

We will bring you this after he has spoken at the post-match press conference.


What next for Arsenal?

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

Arsenal go for the season’s double over Brighton, after beating them 2-0 at the Emirates just before Christmas. A repeat of last season’s 4-2 win on the south coast would be very welcome.


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(Top photo: David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)





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