When a player comes through from the Hale End academy, Arsenal fans are rightly proud. The Gunners have a rich academy history, though the last decade-plus has seen precious few first team players emerge. And in Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe, Arsenal have two lifelong Gunners who have a proud history of playing attacking, menacing football.

However, for Arsenal, one of their own – Smith-Rowe – was nearly wearing the shirt of a London rival. As a child, the youngster was on trial at Chelsea and was rejected. Now, he stars for his boyhood club and has become a recent call-up to the senior England squad. Though the Blues have revitalised their academy process, it is highly unlikely that the England youth international would have broken through.

Having spent some time on loan at various clubs, including RB Leipzig, Smith-Rowe has taken his time to emerge. Now, the youngster looks like he could be the face of the Gunners for years to come. As he noted in his first press conference as a senior England call-up, though, Smith-Rowe admitted things could have worked out so much differently in his career.

What did Emile Smith-Rowe say about nearly signing for Chelsea?

When speaking about the opportunity to play for England, Smith-Rowe was keen to praise his current club for helping him reach this pinnacle. However, he was asked about rumours that he has Chelsea in his playing past, as many England players do today. Smith-Rowe never hid, though, admitting that he was close to signing for Chelsea as a youngster. However, he admits that he did not impress as intended in the trial and that it had a detrimental impact on his confidence.

It would be hard to spot, though, with the England call-up showing a natural self-belief and confidence as he parades around the pitch for Arsenal. In a different universe, though, he could be breaking the lines and scoring goals in blue, not red.

Speaking about the previous history with the Blues to reporters, Smith-Rowe said: “Yes, before I went to Arsenal, I went on trial at Chelsea through one of my team mates at my local team,

“He was on trial there already and he put in a word for me. I don’t know how he managed it but I got a trial at Chelsea but I didn’t get in. It was difficult to take at the time, being so young, but I went straight into Arsenal after that and luckily I got in and I haven’t looked back since.”

He also mentioned that his England call-up was a surprise, saying: “I was going into the U21s and I got a phone call the day before from Gareth to say I am in the first team.

“It was a great moment for me and my family. My mum was downstairs when he called and I was upstairs. I ran downstairs and told her straight away, it was very emotional. They were so proud of me and I couldn’t wait to meet up with the squad.

“Everything has happened so quickly but I try to keep my head down. It is surreal to be here and I want to learn as much as I can.”

For Arsenal, then, Chelsea’s loss is almost certainly their gain.