EMILE SMITH ROWE sparked a social media frenzy by hiding his Arsenal shirt number – leaving fans trying to figure if he will be starting or parting.
Supporters were split on whether last season's No32 – still a prime Aston Villa target – was covering up an 11, 10 or 8 top in a series of puzzling poses during pre-season training.
The England Under-21 midfielder is tipped to sign a new five-year contract at the Emirates, despite Villa reportedly lining up a third offer after bids of £25m and £30m were turned down.
And the mood on Twitter leaned towards Londoner Smith Rowe, 20 remaining at the club where he has been since 2010.
Fans crossed their fingers he would stay… while he crossed his arms to block out the number on his top.
And in another photo, Smith Rowe stoked the mystery even further by carrying his training gear high up in front of his chest.
Sharp-eyed supporters also noted he appeared to be snapped from angles clearly designed to cover up his shirt details.
Others joked he was shielding an "Aston Villa logo," with one posting: "Obviously hiding his Villa badge under there for the strangest announcement ever".
And a particularly-frustrated Gooner tweeted: "Can Arsenal just tell us the number so I can get a beautiful new shirt with ESR on the back please."
As for the number, if it's the No8 then he would be following greats of the last 30 years like Ian Wright, Freddie Ljungberg, Samir Nasri and current manager Mikel Arteta – all Emirates legends for their own special reasons.
And if it's No11 then he follows a mixed bunch – with three iconic exceptions: Marc Overmars, Robin van Persie and Mesut Ozil.
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Terhe were even a few suggests for No10,most notably worn by Dennis Bergkamp, Paul Merson, Van Persie for two years and Jack Wilshere
Smith Rowe's present deal runs until 2023, having shown stand-out potential last term with 33 appearances and four goals.
Villa have been persistent admirers but Arsenal will not want to lose out to the Midlanders again, after Norwich's Emiliano Buendia chose Dean Smith's men.
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