Smith-Rowe, 20, is enjoying an impressive breakthrough season at the Emirates, becoming a key member of Mikel Arteta‘s senior side after being sent out on loan in previous years.
The attacking midfielder has registered five goals and six assists in 23 appearances this term, and Petit has identified him as one of four current Arsenal players that are “exempt of any criticism”.
The former Gunners midfielder has also likened him to Gascoigne on the pitch, while also praising his attitude away from it.
Petit, speaking exclusively to Ladbrokes at its launch of the 5-A-Side Bet on Crystal Palace v Chelsea, said: “The question is simple; how many Arsenal players would you look at and say ‘they’re one of the best in the league in that position’?
“For me, if you look at the last two or three seasons, how many players are exempt of any criticism?
“Three or four, probably: Kieran Tierney and Bernd Leno. I really like Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe; the way Smith-Rowe plays really reminds me of Paul Gascoigne. I like his behaviour on and off the pitch.”
Arsenal have endured a miserable season despite the solid form of Smith-Rowe, Saka, Tierney and Leno.
Arteta’s men have only taken 42 points from a possible 90, with 12 defeats from 30 games leaving them languishing down in 10th place.
Petit feels his old club’s young talents are not being supported by world-class senior players, lamenting the lack of experienced leaders in the dressing room.
He added: “I like the young players, but they need to be surrounded by Lee Dixons and Tony Adams’, those personalities. It’s a simple science but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt as a footballer, it’s that you become a better player when you play with better players!
“There are some intelligent players in that team but for me there’s a real lack of characters, of leaders. I think too many of their players let their heads drop when they go down and it’s rare you see the team playing with any real desire.
“I saw it against Chelsea and Tottenham this season where they’ve fought for every inch on the pitch, but we don’t see it enough. If they can do it against very good teams as we’ve seen, why can’t they do it in every single game?”