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Mikel Arteta challenges Emile Smith Rowe as Arsenal injury return looms

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Smith Rowe has been out of action since early September after sustaining a groin injury, but is now back in training.

The 22-year-old could return on Monday night when Arsenal travel to Oxford in the FA Cup third round.

Arteta is delighted to have Smith Rowe back and he believes he can play a key role in the second half of the season, with the Gunners currently leading Manchester City top of the Premier League by five points.

“He (Smith Rowe) knows he has the space in the squad to fulfill his potential,” Arteta said. “We really like him, I really like him and he’s a very important player for us.

“He knows now he has to jump on the bandwagon fast enough to have the impact we all hope he can have this season.

Close return: Emile Smith Rowe could return to Arsenal against Oxford on Monday

/ Arsenal F.C. via Getty Images

“He can play as an attacking midfielder on the left, on the right, he can also play on the left. Those qualities within those away units are something he complements very well. We will exploit this.

Smith Rowe has been out for four months and in that time Arsenal’s attack has flourished, with Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli impressive alongside Gabriel Jesus, himself now sidelined.

Arteta admits it will have been difficult for Smith Rowe to be on the sidelines during this period, but he kept the youngster close to the squad to keep spirits up.

“I think you have periods where it’s a long injury like the one he had and there’s an operation in between,” he said. “We tried to be really close to him, to give him advice. He has also been to different places.

“He’s been really good. We talked about his moods, his energy and how much he has to live with the team during this time and he’s been really good.”

Smith Rowe underwent surgery to fix his groin problem, which had been causing him discomfort for some time, and Arteta says Arsenal have carefully increased his workload.

“I think we’ve been pretty careful over the last month or so in terms of how we’ve progressed him in training.” he said. “And again, you have to throw him out there and he has to be able to watch the minutes, and that’s why we probably extended his preparation a bit.”

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