In 2020, Aston Villa struck a deal to sign goalkeeper Emi Martinez from Arsenal for a fee of just under £20m. Martinez had played the final eight Premier League games of the previous season following an injury to Bernd Leno, and also helped Arsenal defeat Manchester City and Chelsea to win the FA Cup.
However, when Mikel Arteta decided that he’d stick with a returning Leno as his number one the following season, it opened the door for Martinez to move on and become the main man elsewhere. The Argentine has enjoyed huge success since moving to Villa Park, winning his side’s Player of the Year Award in his debut season and then going on to land the World Cup Golden Glove and the Yashin Trophy after his country achieved immortality in Qatar.
Three and a half years on from Martinez’s arrival, Villa are looking to strike gold again with another out-and-favour Arsenal player, this time Emile Smith-Rowe. The club’s interest dates back to 2021, when Dean Smith was manager, as they saw two bids rejected, the second of which was worth £30m. Arsenal were “adamant” that he wasn’t for sale, but now there’s a chance that Unai Emery might succeed where Smith failed.
Smith-Rowe transfer is “one to watch”
Speaking to GiveMeSport, CBS Sports journalist Ben Jacobs says that Villa hold a “genuine” interest in Smith-Rowe. He’s unsure whether the player will be allowed to leave before the transfer deadline at the start of next month, but he reckons Arsenal may be tempted by a good offer. This, then, is a very much a transfer story “to watch” in 2024.
“Smith Rowe is still an interesting point of discussion at Arsenal. I’m still told the Villa interest is genuine. Whether or not anything moves in January remains to be seen, and I think if Smith Rowe, as an academy graduate, were to leave, then it may divide the Arsenal fan base a little bit. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the right offer comes if Arsenal consider that. Again, that may be one to watch in 2024 rather than in the next few days. But I am told there is something genuine in the Villa interest in Smith Rowe.”
Kai Havertz could help Villa finally land Smith-Rowe
The last time that Villa tried to sign Smith-Rowe, it seemed inevitable that Arsenal would swat away any offers that arrived. He was coming off a season where he’d started 18 of the 23 Premier Leagues games for which he was available, and also made the line-up eight times on his side’s run to the Europa League semifinals.
Now, though, things are looking very different. Smith-Rowe has appeared in 13 games up to this point, but his only league start came in a 5-0 win over Sheffield United in late October. An unused subsitute eight times in the top-flight, he didn’t fare much better in the Champions League group stages either with just 42 recorded minutes.
It must have hurt the Englishman to see summer arrival Kai Havertz converted into a midfielder by Mikel Arteta and then used more often (the German has played double the games in the middle of the park so far this season).
Another thing that’s changed is Villa’s standing. In 2021, they were coming off the back of an 11th-place finish, but now they’re level on points with Arsenal and in with a great chance of qualifying for the Champions League. That could be key in making them a much more appealing destination for Smith-Rowe.