Emile Smith Rowe starred as Arsenal won their opening group game in the PL International Cup 3-0 against Villarreal on Wednesday night.

Steve Bould coaching the Arsenal u23s in a match against Derby County (Photo via Twitter / ArsenalAcademy)

Emile Smith Rowe was the only surprise in the starting lineup, coming in for James Olayinka despite being fit and ready to play for the first team on Thursday.

Other than that, it was the same team that had started against Southampton at the weekend.

Smith Rowe was quickly involved in the action, forcing an early save from a tight angle after running through on goal.

A few minutes later he linked up well with Trae Coyle on the edge of the box, with Coyle putting a testing cross in. The Villarreal goalkeeper spilled the ball into the air for Nathan Tormey to head it into the net from close range for 1-0.

Smith Rowe and Tyreece John-Jules were involved in a few more positive moves in the opening half an hour, but Villarreal grew into the game and forced Karl Hein into a number of saves and claims before half-time.

The away side were very physical in that opening 45 minutes, committing a lot of fouls and breaking up the play, but the chances were fairly even overall. The visitors came closest to a goal with a shot that bounced dangerously across the line after coming off the post.

Arsenal came out much stronger in the second half though, and Smith Rowe quickly got on the scoresheet after linking up with Tormey. Tormey played a nice reverse pass into the midfielder’s path but the angle was tight, and Smith Rowe did well to finish with his weaker left foot low at the near post.

The game got a bit chaotic during a few minutes of play where the referee lost control of proceedings after that. There were a few fouls and a penalty shout on John-Jules but the ref ignored all of them before booking the striker for dissent. He then missed a clear foul throw to further anger the Arsenal players.

Thankfully, the Gunners added a third goal to cheer themselves up. Konstantinos Mavropanos headed down a set-piece for Coyle to turn home from close range.

With the game wrapped up, Medley, Olayinka and Cottrell came on for Coyle, Tormey and Smith Rowe – who completed 90 minutes and was only withdrawn in injury time.

The result leaves Arsenal top of the group after their opening game, with Villarreal bottom having played twice. No doubt Leicester City and Dinamo Zagreb will offer sterner tests in the upcoming fixtures.

Given he’s fit for the senior action, it’s strange Smith Rowe isn’t getting a chance in Unai Emery’s side at the moment. He’s been well above the level of the other u23s when involved with them, but doesn’t appear to be in favour with Emery. There are even whispers of a possible loan move in January, but in my opinion, the first team could use him now.

Lineup: Hein, Swanson, Clarke, Mavropanos, Bola, Smith, Burton, Smith Rowe, Tormey, John-Jules, Coyle

Subs: Olayinka (for Tormey), Cottrell (for Smith Rowe), Medley (for Coyle)

Unused subs: Olowu, Hillson, McGuinness, McEneff