The first chapter of Declan Rice’s Arsenal narrative could not have ended better: surrounded by colleagues, serenaded by fans, and praised by his boss. The $130 million man entered north London legend with a swing of his right boot and a remarkable display of composure with his chin. Whatever their club record signing achieves going forward, there will always be that moment when he defeated a formidable adversary, enthralled north London, and gave Arsenal the lead against Manchester United in the final minute of a game they eventually won 3-1.
However, it greatly helps that Rice’s 359 minutes prior to scoring his first goal in Arsenal colours have been so incredibly strong. The former West Ham player has displayed a variety of skills in each of his first five Premier League games as well as the Community Shield, ranging from destroyer to propulsive engine via a surprisingly regular shot.
Arsenal’s victory over Manchester United was assured by the presence of Rice, the one-man midfield anchor who almost always ensures victory in tussles in the middle of the pitch. Given that the game strategy may have changed at the last minute, it was arguably even more astounding. The Gunners had reportedly considered pairing Rice with Thomas Partey for this weekend’s game, but the latter’s injury prevented preparations from being finalised. You would not have known if the England international had been assigned a different job. Not for nothing did Mikel Arteta’s postgame press conference response to a query about his new signing’s overall performance resemble the sound of “phwoar” in certain ways.
Breaking down Rice’s game
“A fantastic performance,” Arteta exclaimed. When you consider how a holding midfielder must control his or her space, how he or she must disrupt play, and how he or she held the team together when they were a little stretched. Then he created a miraculous time to give us the victory.
This game will be remembered for the late goal, and he deserves praise for not going with the tried-and-true strategy of passing to Fabio Vieira. However, Rice was dictating the match much earlier, winning the duels and neutralising the limited threat United posed on the counter. When Kai Havertz mishandled a through ball that might have sent Martin Odegaard away in the 10th minute, the opponent gained an opportunity. Arsenal are put in great peril as Christian Eriksen and Antony wriggle the ball forward.
Midfielders Rice and Fernandes compete for a 50/50 ball.
Bruno Fernandes could be able to get a pass into the area that Antony is moving into. Marcus Rashford is in the open space behind him if he can turn away from danger. Meanwhile, Rice is a little unprepared. But not for long, as he quickly advances. Even with momentum on his side, Fernandes must slip to be the first to the ball. Even though possession was up in the air, Ben White had ample time to scramble back and eventually intercept a loose pass. The 50:50 ball will finally loop up in United’s favour.
Rice made sure Fernandes wouldn’t strike it lucky again two minutes later. He made a superb sliding tackle guaranteed to thrill any English stadium by sneaking up behind United’s captain.
Rice approaches Fernandes from behind to take something. Premier League/Wyscout
What Rice does next, when he takes control and drives to the left, is even more spectacular. Although he may have a profile as the grounding force at the base of the midfield, this player excels at moving the ball forward.
On Saturday, no Arsenal player advanced their team up the pitch. No one made more passes into the final third, with this specific pass being among the best.
He slows down as soon as he sees Gabriel Martinelli on the underlap, dragging Casemiro forward so he can pass to Arsenal’s nimble No. 11 from behind. Martinelli then sends in a cross, which eventually lands at Havertz’s feet, but he only manages to connect with more fresh air than ball. Rice’s fortitude and tenacity led to the game’s finest opportunity overall.
Casemiro is forced to approach Rice after Rice gives him no other option, which allows Martinelli to attack Wyscout/Premier League.
The penalty that wasn’t given also demonstrated the new man for Arsenal’s on-ball abilities. In the 59th minute, Rice picked up the ball off William Saliba and passed it to Eddie Nketiah before sprinting into the space the centre forward had left open. Nketiah passed the ball to Havertz, who stumbled while being pressed by Aaron Wan-Bissaka. A penalty was immediately called, but was later overturned by VAR. It’s possible that Rice would have been in a good position to score on a first shot or rebound had he managed to get a pass or shot off.
Early in his tenure with the club, Arsenal found his awareness of the penalty area to be a welcome quality. In the win over Nottingham Forest, Rice shown his willingness to shoot from outside the box, and he continued to prove that he was a constant threat from corners, which led to his goal against United. Rice has expressed a desire to increase the number of goals in his game. The most glaring example of this is his delicate through ball against Crystal Palace that Eddie Nketiah chipped over the crossbar. He also has an eye for the right pass when positioned on the outskirts of the area. After four games, we are still dealing with a very tiny sample size, but Rice is now averaging more than one shot per 90 minutes for the first time in his Premier League career, while his predicted assists have increased to 0.08.
His manager has no doubts that a player with a four-goal season’s best goal total in the Premier League can increase his production. “He can score more,” said Arteta, “when you see the technical ability that he has and how he executed in this these moments.” “He can do it with both legs, and his range when firing from accuracy and the power he generates in confined spaces is with both legs.
“He has the timing to arrive in the box as well. That will be heavily influenced by the position because it has to do with how you enter the box. But it’s clear that he has the capacity to do so. In that opening-day victory over Forest, Rice displayed a willingness to take shots from outside the box, just like Partey did last year. If he consistently achieves this, Arsenal’s offensive arsenal would gain a new weapon.
Why does Rice seem so content?
Rice has therefore undoubtedly made a strong start. The reason for this is that, in large part, his comfort level off the pitch reflected his level of comfort on it. The 24-year-old has quickly established himself as a beloved character in the locker room. He has developed relationships with old pals from his time playing for England, and he has always been close to Nketiah, with whom he shares the experience of being let go by Chelsea while they were both in the academy. When Rice was applauded into the tunnel at the final whistle, David Raya sprang on his shoulders in joy, it was clear how much the teammates shared the Emirates Stadium crowd’s elation for him.
After impressive performances against Crystal Palace and Manchester United, Rice exudes the confidence of a guy at ease who doesn’t mind being in the public spotlight. “I like to laugh and talk to people, therefore I’m quite an extroverted guy. I needed to get comfortable as soon as I could, especially at a place like this club. I’ve been welcomed so warmly by everyone.
It was “very natural” for Rice and Arteta to fit together, he continued. He said, “He’s a lovely child. “I believe he strikes a good balance between being quite demanding of everyone and himself, engaging in light humour, and acting extremely modestly around the staff and the guys. He’s blending in well, in my opinion.
The tactical changes made to place Rice in his best positions undoubtedly aid in that adaption. That was frequently on the left side of central midfield for West Ham, positions that allowed him to see more of the field in front of him and open up his body to spread passes out to the right. The nine figure purchase of Arteta found himself in the same positions in his new shirt because of his decision to invert his right back in the first three Premier League games of the season.
There were indications that Arsenal’s left back would merely invert to the maximum when that option became less readily available to them as a result of Partey’s injury. It was difficult to be certain when Oleksandr Zinchenko was on the pitch because his wanderings across the pitch were one of the Gunners’ best attributes the previous season, but it did seem like a planned change when Takehiro Tomiyasu found himself in comparable locations to Rice’s right.
the touch map used by Oleksandr Zinchenko vs Manchester United TruMedia
The difficulties that could arise in transition if your left defender is closer to Bukayo Saka on the right wing than Martinelli on the left are easily visualised, yet on Sunday it mostly worked. Gabriel is as competent as anyone of filling those holes, and Rice himself could have handled any pressure there if Antony hadn’t been there.
It at least suggests that there is effort to be done to ensure that the new player is as dominant in environments with which he is less experienced. Arteta is having to make such modifications to get Rice in his best spots. It makes sense for Arsenal to start their new midfield recruit in his best position and work from there when they are receiving performances as strong as his first five have been.
Even at such a hefty price, the pairing of Arsenal and Rice always appeared to be a strong one on paper. While only five games are insufficient to determine whether such a sizable cash has been wisely spent, the early indications are quite positive.