Mikel Arteta says Emile Smith Rowe has a key role to play in the second half of the season

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has spoken of the importance of Emile Smith Rowe and insisted the academy graduate will have a key role to play in the second half of the season.

The 22-year-old hasn’t played since September due to a persistent groin problem and underwent surgery to repair the injury in the same month.

Although Smith Rowe is not in contention to face West Ham on Boxing Day, he is closing in on a return and has been receiving praise from his manager ahead of the top-flight campaign resuming.

“Emile is near. He had a setback but he’s there and he’s well placed,” Arteta said.

“We did a lot of things with Emile. Sometimes he was close (to the group), sometimes he was in different places to see a different environment.

“His attitude has been great and it’s part of any career, any development, to have periods when you’re out and have long-term injuries.

“He has to react to that, but for sure he has our full support and he’s a huge talent that we need for the second part of the season at its best because his contribution will be essential for the team. “

Smith Rowe’s rehab has seen him visit Abu Dhabi and experience different sporting environments, but he hopes to return to the field in the new year.

It’s a different story for fellow Hale Ender Reiss Nelson who suffered a muscle problem in last weekend’s friendly with Juventus.

Arteta admitted: “With Reiss, unfortunately, he got injured against Juventus and he’s going to be out for a while, I think.

“I’m talking weeks, not days. He will be away for a few weeks. Let’s see how he reacts in the next few days. He immediately felt something and with sprinters it’s not a good sign.

As well as Smith Rowe and Nelson, Arsenal could also be without France international William Saliba for Monday’s derby with West Ham.

Saliba, who has been virtually ubiquitous in the Gunners’ run to the top of the Premier League, played just 27 minutes for his country in Qatar but was only due to return to training for the club on Friday.

“Let’s see depending on how he comes back as well,” Arteta explained of the centre-back.

“We have the data on what he has done in training. In terms of minutes, he didn’t participate much but it was a huge experience for him.

“Of course we have a lot of contact, but it’s one thing on the phone and another thing in person when you can talk to him directly, see how he trains and see how he picks up the pace.”

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